Supreme Court decides on Scottish minimum alcohol pricing

From BBC - November 14, 2017

The UK's highest court will decide later whether Scotland can finally implement its policy of minimum pricing for alcohol.

Legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament five years ago but it has been tied up in court challenges amid claims it breaches European law.

Ministers said a 50p-per-unit minimum would help tackle Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink".

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

It said the policy was a "restriction on trade" and there were more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.

Last year, The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled against the Scotch whisky industry but allowed it to appeal to the Supreme Court.

That appeal was heard in July and judges retired to consider their verdict.

If the SWA appeal is dismissed, Scotland could become the first country in the world to establish a minimum price for alcohol - with ministers saying it would become law "as quickly as is practicable", possibly early next year.

How does minimum pricing work?

The Scottish government's aim is to reduce the amount that problem drinkers consume simply by raising the price of the strongest, cheapest alcohol.

The move is not a tax or duty increase. It is a price hike for the cheapest drink, with any extra cash going to the retailer.

Last year, Alcohol Focus Scotland claimed the maximum recommended weekly intake of alcohol (14 units) could be bought for just 2.52.

It said super-strength cider and own-brand vodka and whisky could be purchased for as little as 18p per unit of alcohol.

The 50p-per-unit minimum outlined by the legislation would raise the price of the cheapest bottle of red wine (9.4 units of alcohol) to 4.70, a four-pack of 500ml cans of 4% lager would cost at least 4 and a 70cl bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than 14.

Off-sales and supermarkets

Minimum pricing will not raise the prices of all alcoholic drinks because many are already above the threshold.

Pubs and bars are unlikely to be affected as they usually charge much more than 50p per unit.

The aim is to hit consumption of strong alcohol which is sold at low prices.

The new laws would be "experimental" and expire after six years unless renewed.

Supporters of minimum pricing believe the move is necessary to tackle the country's binge drinking culture, with Scots buying 20% more alcohol on average than people in England or Wales.

Scotland's Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "Alcohol is 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980 and alcohol misuse costs Scotland 3.6bn each year - 900 for every adult.

Timeline: Minimum pricing for alcohol

What's the situation elsewhere in the UK?


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