Scottish alcohol plans Q&A

Behind the Headlines

Tuesday March 3 2009

The Scottish government has published a series of proposals aimed at tackling alcohol misuse in Scotland. The BBC and other media reported that the government has published a framework outlining the plans, which include banning cut-price drinks offers and introducing the ‘radical step’ of setting a minimum price per unit. Scotland would be the first country in Europe to introduce such measures.

What are the proposed steps?

There are several proposals, but the ones that have received the most interest are:

  • Establishing regulations that will set a minimum price per unit of alcohol.
  • Regulations to end drinks promotions in shops, such as ‘buy one get one free’ offers and cut-price drinks. Additionally, new regulations to end the sale of alcohol as a ‘loss leader’, in which goods are sold at a loss to attract customers to shops so they will buy other products.
  • Raising the age for buying alcohol in shops to 21 in areas where the licensing authority and police feel it is necessary.
  • Legislative powers to apply a ‘social responsibility’ fee on some alcohol retailers to help offset the adverse consequences of alcohol misuse.

Why has this move been made?

Alcohol-related deaths have more than doubled in the last 15 years in Scotland, which has one of the fastest growing rates of liver disease and cirrhosis in the world. Alcohol-related illness and injury accounted for more than 40,000 hospital discharges in 2007/2008.

The report says that the problem of alcohol misuse has grown in Scotland, with up to 50% of men and 30% of women exceeding recommended drinking levels. The government says that in each of the past three years, enough alcohol was sold in Scotland to enable every man and woman over 16 to exceed the recommended male guideline every week.

In addition to the health costs, there are also numerous social and economic costs.

What are the possible reasons for the increase in alcohol misuse?

There are multiple factors at play, however alcohol has also become significantly cheaper, and is estimated to be 70% more affordable than in 1980. The same period has seen a 19% increase in alcohol consumption. Retailers continue to sell alcohol at large discounts, with 24-can packs of lager being sold for only £7, and 70cl bottles of vodka sold for £6.

When will the new proposals take effect?

Many of the proposals will need to be approved by the Scottish parliament. However, the proposal for a minimum cost per unit of alcohol could come into effect by the end of the year because it is an amendment to existing legislation and therefore does not need approval.

Would they impact people living in England?

No, these proposals are for Scotland only.

Might they ever be applied in England?

This would require separate legislation. As yet, there is no suggestion that Westminster is considering such plans. However, if the proposals for Scotland go ahead and are successful, it is possible that the Westminster government may eventually follow suit.


Edited by NHS Choices


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