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Minimum pricing of alcohol does not go far enough, says Royal Society of Edinburgh

Minimum pricing has been supported by a broad coalition of health professionals and drinks industry figures

The minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland should be set at 50p per unit — 10p more than that proposed by the SNP government, according to the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The society, whose members include experts in health, public policy, economics and law, said that a minimum price of 40p would be insufficient to reduce consumption.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, suggested a minimum price of 50p per unit in his annual report last year.

“If such bold legislation is to be introduced it must be associated with a price level that is likely to have an impact,” the society states in a report responding to the planned legislation.

“The [Scottish Parliament Health Committee] should encourage Scottish ministers to further consider the modelling work with a view to initially setting the minimum price to at least 50p per unit. Once set, the minimum price and its effect on alcohol consumption should be subject to comprehensive evaluation.”

Although the Nationalists have not specified the price per unit that would be set if the measure became law, they have frequently referred to the example of 40p per unit. As the average unit last year cost 43p, only the price of the very cheapest alcoholic drinks, including supermarket own-label white cider and vodka, would increase.

Scottish ministers want to introduce minimum pricing as part of the Alcohol Bill going through Parliament, but the proposal is likely to fail after the three main opposition parties rejected the plans.

Minimum pricing has been supported by a broad coalition of health professionals and drinks industry figures, including British medical chiefs, the directors of Scotland’s health boards and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

Tennent’s, Scotland’s biggest brewer, became the first alcohol producer to support minimum pricing today. Mike Lees, the company’s managing director, said that the measure could be “part of the solution” to tackling the country’s booze culture.

An independent study published by York University this month estimated that alcohol abuse costs Scotland £3.56 billion a year — equivalent to £900 for every adult.

In its response to the Alcohol Bill, the society firmly supported the principle of minimum pricing. However, its document said that the proposal would not be effective on its own and demanded that it was part of a broader strategy intended to tackle alcohol misuse, including better education and rigorous enforcement of existing legislation to prevent alcohol being sold to children.

Anna Dominiczak, head of the British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, and a council member of the society, said: “The scientific evidence suggests a strong relationship between the comparatively low cost and easy accessibility of alcohol and alcohol consumption. There is abundant epidemiological evidence of an inverse relationship between cost and rates of alcoholic cirrhosis.

“The problem, however, is more complex and other factors undoubtedly contribute. There is regrettably a widespread lack of awareness of the adverse effects of alcohol.

“Public health measures and preventative medicine have not been effective. The message of ‘safe limits’ is always a difficult one to get across to the public; some of the hard-hitting techniques used more recently to encourage people to quit smoking have not been employed to address excessive alcohol consumption.”

Professor Dominiczak called for cross-party support for alcohol minimum pricing, arguing that MSPs must demonstrate the “bold leadership” that led to the smoking ban.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Secretary, welcomed the society’s response but said it was important to strike a balance when setting a minimum price. “Minimum pricing will not raise the price of all drinks — it targets the dirt-cheap supermarket white ciders, lagers and low-grade spirits sought out by problem drinkers,” she said.

“We need to ensure that the price has a real impact on reducing harm, while also being proportionate and reasonable. The exact level has not yet been set and will be determined with reference to the evidence.”

Jackie Baillie, Labour’s health spokeswoman, said that the SNP’s minimum pricing plans were flawed. “The truth is that the SNP are promoting a scheme that will put millions of pounds in the pockets of the supermarkets and big brewers, but won’t provide a single penny for more police officers or alcohol treatment,” she said.

source: Times Online

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