Scotland becomes world's first country to introduce minimum unit price for alcohol

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland was leading the world with minimum unit pricing. Credit: PA

Scotland has become the first country in the world to effectively ban the sale of cheap booze by introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol.

Under the new rules there will be a minimum 50p per unit price - meaning the more alcohol there is in a drink, the more expensive it will be.

For example, a bottle of strong cider has gone up from £4 to £11.

The plans are aimed at saving lives and reducing health problems caused by alcohol abuse.

The new policy was tied up in a legal battle for six years, due to legal challenges led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Following its implementation on Tuesday, it has been welcomed by the medical professional and health campaigners as the biggest breakthrough in public health since the ban on smoking in public.

  • Why was the minimum alcohol pricing introduced?

Scotland has taken action in response to concerns over alcohol abuse, which causes hundreds of deaths nationally each year.

It is estimated the move could save around 392 lives in the first five years of its implementation in Scotland, where on average there are 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week and 697 hospital admissions.

Misuse of alcohol is thought to cost Scotland £3.6 billion each year, or £900 for every adult in the country.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has hailed the change as “bold and brave”.

Speaking on a visit to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, she said that before the change, a person could drink their recommended weekly intake of alcohol for just £2.50.

She said: “All of the evidence says that minimum unit pricing will reduce deaths from alcohol-related illnesses, reduce hospital admissions and generally reduce the damage that alcohol misuse does to our society.

“No one has ever said that minimum pricing on its own will resolve all of the problems we have with alcohol misuse but all of the experts who support this policy will also say that without this all of the other things we do will not have as much impact as we want them to.”

  • How will the minimum unit pricing affect costs?

Under the new rules of a minimum 50p unit, a 70cl bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14, while a bottle of vodka of the same size could not be sold for less than £13.13.

The bottle of vodka costs less than the whiskey, since it is less strong. Whiskey has an average strength of 40%, while vodka is 37.5%, meaning there are less units of alcohol in vodka than whiskey.

Meanwhile, four 440ml cans of nine percent lager could not be sold for less than £7.92, while a 75cl bottle of 12.5% wine could be sold for no less than £4.69.

The new rules are unlikely to affect the prices of drinks sold in pubs, restaurants or bars as these are already higher than the minimum price per unit. To be affected they would have to be selling a pint of lager for £1.14 or a large glass of wine for £1.50.

  • What has the reaction been?

The change has been hailed by experts and health campaigners.

Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “As a nation we drink 40% more than the low risk drinking guidelines of 14 units per week for men and women.

“Prior to the implementation of minimum unit pricing, those 14 units could be bought for just £2.52. This is absolutely unacceptable.

“That is where this new legislation comes in, and I am confident that over the first five years of its operation, minimum unit pricing will reduce the number of alcohol-specific deaths by hundreds, and hospital admissions by thousands.”

It is also being watched closely by campaigner in other states including Britain.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Already we see countries across the British Isles – Wales and Ireland – looking to follow suit and I’m sure that as the benefits of this policy start to be seen we’ll see other countries elsewhere doing exactly that."

  • Could this be followed by further alcohol price unit rises in the future?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke on a visit to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Credit: PA

It's possible - the Scottish Government has faced calls to go further with policies to tackle the issue, including by increasing the minimum unit price and backing further curbs on the marketing or availability of alcohol.

Ms Sturgeon said the government remained “very open minded to policy ideas”, adding: “We need to continue to look at how we do more.

“Within the powers of the Parliament its important that we continue to look at where further action can have a positive impact.”

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said his party would “await with interest” the impact of the policy.

He said: “The Scottish Conservatives supported the introduction of a sunset clause, so that if minimum pricing proves to be ineffective then it can be scrapped.”

Labour’s Anas Sarwar MSP welcomed the move but said a “comprehensive, fully-funded strategy to tackle problem drinking” was needed.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the government should consider increasing the 50p rate.