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Doctors urge industry to respect minimum alcohol unit decision

Minimum unit pricing policy delay has caused ill health, says BMA

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 31 October 2016

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Doctors and public health campaigners have urged the alcohol industry to respect the recent legal decision dismissing objections to introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland.

A joint open letter was sent to the Scotch Whisky Association Council at the weekend by 15 organisations including Alcohol Focus Scotland, BMA Scotland, Cancer Research UK, and the Scottish Directors of Public Health.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2012 to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, but more than four years later, the policy has still not been implemented because of successive legal actions brought by the alcohol industry opposing it.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Court of Session published a ruling, which dismissed the legal challenges brought by the alcohol industry against the 2012 legislation. The BMA and the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) are keen that England and Wales follow Scotland’s example in introducing similar legislation.

However, the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) said at the time it was still considering an appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

In the letter sent to the SWA at the weekend, the various bodies said that no MSP (member of Scottish Parliament) had voted against the legislation when it was passed in 2012 and the policy was widely supported by doctors, social workers, children’s charities and the public.

“In the time since you began your legal action, minimum unit pricing could have prevented hundreds of Scots from dying and thousands more from suffering alcohol-related ill health, injury or crime,” says the letter.

The letter’s signatories said they supported the World Health Organization position that alcohol producers had a limited role in alcohol strategy, restricted to their role as developers, producers, distributors, marketers and sellers of alcoholic beverages.

“The European Court of Justice ruling confirmed that it was primarily for the state to determine both the level of protection which it wished to afford to its citizens’ life and health and the means by which that level of protection could be achieved. That is what the Scottish Parliament did by passing the MUP [minimum unit pricing] legislation.

“Now is the time for your companies to respect the will of the Scottish Parliament and the Court’s decision and, at long last, to drop this ill-judged and damaging legal action.”

David Frost, SWA chief executive, said: “We regret the Court of Session's ruling in favour of the Scottish Government on minimum unit pricing.

“We continue to believe that MUP is a restriction on trade and that there are more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse. However, we of course remain committed to working with all partners to address this problem so that the long-term trend of declining alcohol-related harm in Scotland continues.

“We will study the details of the judgement and consult our members before deciding on next steps, including any possible appeal to the UK Supreme Court.”

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