The Scottish Government looks set to introduce minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks that supermarkets and off licenses must follow. Will English politicians follow suit? The debate surrounding the dangers of cheap booze has raged for a long time. Costs associated with alcoholism and binge drinking in the UK are heavy and politicians have been searching for a way to limit the damage that dangerous drinking can have on society. As a result of many hours of discussion the Scottish Government is ready to introduce a minimum price for all alcoholic beverages.
A minimum price of 50p has been agreed upon by the ruling SNP and all other political parties except Labour. The announcement was made recently by Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. She said, “Cheap alcohol comes at a price and now is the time to tackle the toll that Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol is taking on our society.”
Under the new regulations supermarkets and off licenses would no longer be able to sell alcohol at discount prices. For instance the minimum price for a bottle of red wine would be £4.69. Similarly the cheapest a bottle of 40% strength whisky could be priced at is £14. The Scottish Government claims the new regulations will save five hundred lives per year from alcohol-related deaths.
The Scottish Parliament has discussed such regulations in the past. Only two years ago the same Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill was defeated, but during that vote the now ruling SNP was the minority administration. This second attempt to pass the bill is expected to be successful. The bill also contains what is known as a “sunset clause” that will allow it to be repealed in six years if the policy proves to be ineffective.
Many doctors have come out in support of the new regulation. Chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, Dr. Brian Keighley, has said, “Despite efforts to encourage responsible retailing by supermarkets, they continue to sell high-alcohol products such as vodka and ciders at ridiculously cheap prices to entice customers to their store.”
Dr. Keighley continued, “The trend for cheap alcohol and excessive consumption has a human cost. Alcohol related illness causes one death every three hours in Scotland and the total healthcare costs are more than £268 million. This increasing cost could cripple the NHS with a financial burden that is no longer sustainable, especially in the current financial climate.”
England’s politicians are following in the footsteps of their Scottish counterparts. In the coalition government’s new alcohol strategy, minimum alcohol pricing is among a number of proposed methods to tackle alcoholism and binge drinking. In fact, a number of counties are already considering their own minimum alcohol pricing regulations. Any proposals that look to tackle the massive human and financial costs imposed upon the UK by alcohol abuse should be welcomed by all.