Scotland is set to become the first country in the world to set a minimum price for alcohol after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) lost an appeal in the UK’s Supreme Court.
The SWA, with other sections of the drinks industry, argued the move to impose a 50p minimum price per unit for alcohol would be illegal and “disproportionate” according to EU law. But the Supreme Court unanimously backed the Scottish Government, ruling unanimously that Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was compatible with EU law the plan was lawful and proportionate.
The proposal would make the price of a bottle of spirits at least £14, the cheapest bottle of wine at least £4.69, and a four-pack of 500ml cans of lager at least £4.
Absolutely delighted that minimum pricing has been upheld by the Supreme Court. This has been a long road – and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics – but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 15, 2017
The minimum pricing legislation was proposed as a measure to address public health concerns over alcohol consumption and abuse. Campaigners who supported the plan said thousands had died from alcohol-related deaths during the process of the appeals.
Dr. Peter Bennie, chairman of British Medical Association Scotland, said: “As doctors we see every day the severe harms caused by alcohol misuse and the damage it causes to individuals and their families. There are no easy solutions, but minimum unit pricing can make a significant contribution to reducing these harms and saving lives.
Shea Robison, Scotland’s Health Minister said: “This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark movement in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol.
“In a ruling of global significance the UK Supreme Court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy.”
The whiskey association argued alternative pricing measures would cause less disruption of competition across the EU single market, and have the same impact on public health. The SWA’s lawyers told the Supreme Court there were “a whole number of ways in which pricing can legitimately be used in accordance with EU law to achieve those aims”.
The SWA said it would work in partnership with the government and voluntary sector to “promote responsible drinking and tackle alcohol-related harm”, but added that the Scottish and UK governments should support the industry against a possibility of trade barriers discriminating against Scotch as a result of the new legislation.
The minimum pricing legislation could come into force early next year.