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Scotland should copy Russia in war on cheap alcohol, insists Sturgeon

Scottish ministers have stepped up their campaign to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol after Russia yesterday became the latest country to introduce a floor price on spirits.

Russia’s national drink, vodka, will be sold for at least £1.80, doubling the price of the cheapest brands available in the country.

The move was ordered by Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in an effort to reduce heavy drinking in the country’s lengthy New Year holiday period, lasting from 1 to 11 January, which has traditionally been marked by bumper alcohol consumption.

It is the latest step in a major effort by the government to curb alcohol abuse, after official data earlier this year revealed that the average Russian drank 38 pints of pure alcohol every year. Excise duty on beer has been tripled and street side kiosks, which sell cheap drink, have been banned.

In Scotland, SNP ministers last month laid down radical plans to cut Scotland’s own alcohol problem, the centrepiece of which was a minimum price of 40p per unit on all drink.

That would increase the price of cheap spirits and cider. A 700cl bottle of vodka would rise from around £7 at present to £10.50.

However, the moves appear to be stillborn after all the opposition parties said they would not back the measure, arguing that it would not work.

SNP ministers yesterday said the Russian scheme was proof that an increase in price was required to cut alcohol consumption.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “If Russia can take action to deal with its problems of alcohol misuse, there is no excuse for Scotland.

“Our minimum pricing proposals are focused on tackling irresponsibly priced, high-strength beers and ciders – our wider Alcohol Bill represents a once-in-a-generation chance to turn around Scotland’s drink problems.”

She added: “The 3,000 deaths, 42,000 hospital stays and 110,000 GP visits linked to alcohol annually are causing misery for families and communities, burdening our public services and sapping our economic potential.”

Ministers here are supported by all four UK chief medical officers, the British Medical Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon added: “While we have never said that minimum pricing is a ‘silver bullet’, all the expert opinion agrees that it can have a major impact as part of our wider package of measures.”

But opponents remain unconvinced. Labour will unveil further plans this month to set up a commission on alcohol, which will recommend new measures.

Dr Richard Simpson, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “A minimum unit price of about 40p, as the SNP have suggested, would not affect the price of drinks such as Buckfast that fuel antisocial behaviour among young people.”

The Russian minimum price relates specifically to vodka, pushing it to a floor price of 89 roubles (£1.80). In Moscow, supermarkets have been selling cheap bottles for as little as 51 roubles, or just £1.

In a further warning last night, Russia’s emergency minister urged revellers not to drink in the sauna.

“Drink after being in the sauna, not inside,” said Sergei Shoigu.”Maybe this sounds funny … But many people die in saunas.”

source: The Scotsman

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