One of the most effective and cost-effective ways for society to minimise the damage from alcohol consumption is by regulating the price of alcohol.
The price of alcohol matters because when the price of alcohol goes down, consumption of alcohol goes up. The more affordable alcohol becomes, the more people use it, and the more harm we experience because of it.
SHAAP is campaigning for an increase in the price of alcohol to reduce consumption and harm. In a report published in November 2010, Getting the Price of Alcohol Right, summarised the effectiveness of different alcohol pricing mechanisms on tackling harmful alcohol consumption are compared.
Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP)
On 23rd December 2015, the European Court of Justice delivered its judgement on the legality of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland, following the Advocate Generals' opinion in September (see below). The judgement states that Scotland's MUP legislation does not per se contravene European law. The ECJ states that it is ultimately for the national court to determine whether measures other than that provided by the Scottish legislation, such as increased taxation on alcoholic drinks, are capable of protecting human life and health as effectively as the current legislation, while being less restrictive of trade in those products within the EU. If that is not the case, MUP is justified.
Following the judgement, on 28th January 2016 the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh held a procedural hearing and agreed to take more evidence. Industry actors had argued that no new material should be put forward. The Court were not persuaded by that and instead the following next steps were agreed:
6th April 2016 - Deadline for Scottish Government to lodge new material
15th April 2016 - Deadline for industry to lodge new material
15th May 2016 – Deadline for notes of argument
7th & 8th June 2016 – Hearing in the Inner House of the Scottish Court of Session
7th & 8th July 2016 - Further hearing in the Inner House of the Scottish Court of Session, at the request of industry.
This is a provisional timetable and so subject to change.
On 3rd September 2015, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice delivered his opinion on the legality of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland stating that a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol in Scotland does contravene European law. The Advocate General’s opinion marks a significant move forward in the Scottish Government’s battle to implement the ground- breaking measure to protect public health, supported by Health bodies across Europe and several national governments.
The Advocate General's opinion includes:
- That the Common Agricultural Policy does not preclude national rules which prescribe a minimum retail price for wines according to the quantity of alcohol in the product sold, provided that those rules are justified by the objectives of the protection of human health, and in particular the objective of combating alcohol abuse, and do not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve that objective.
- That it is for the national court to decide whether the means chosen are appropriate for the attainment of the objective pursued and that, in making that choice, the Member State did not exceed its discretion, and that it has taken into account the extent to which that measure impedes the free movement of goods when it is compared with alternative measures that would enable the same objective to be attained and when all the interests involved are weighed up.
- That the national court must, in order to assess the proportionality of those rules to the objective pursued, examine not only the material available to and considered by the national authorities when the rules were being drawn up, but also all the factual information existing on the date on which it determines the matter.
- That Articles 34 TFEU and 36 TFEU must be interpreted as meaning that they preclude a Member State, for the purpose of pursuing the objective of combating alcohol abuse, which forms part of the objective of the protection of public health, from choosing rules that impose a minimum retail price of alcoholic beverages that restricts trade within the European Union and distorts competition, rather than increased taxation of those products, unless that Member State shows that the measure chosen has additional advantages or fewer disadvantages than the alternative measure.
1. SHAAP is calling for Public Health advocates to support the Scottish case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Different countries operate different alcohol policies. Although some other countries, including Ireland and Estonia, are considering introducing MUP, Scotland is not suggesting that other EU countries should adopt this policy.
2. Twenty-Two Scots die every week because of alcohol.
In 2011, the alcohol-related death rate in Scotland was almost twice that of 1982. Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease have more than quadrupled in the past 30 years and Scotland now has one of the highest cirrhosis mortality rates in Western Europe.
Recently published data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlights that Scotland had the highest alcohol-related death rate in 2014. In Scotland, the age-standarised death rate was 31.2 per 100,000 of the population compared to 20.3 per 100,000 in Ireland, 19.9 per 100,000 in Wales, and 18.1 per 100,000 in England.
3. MUP saves lives.
MUP policy sets a ‘floor price’ below which alcohol cannot be sold, based on the amount of alcohol contained in the product. In parts of Canada, when minimum price has been consistently and rigorously implemented, it has resulted in a reduction in the amount people drink, with fewer hospital admissions and fewer alcohol-related deaths. MUP enjoys strong support from all health bodies in Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe.
4. Harmful drinkers benefit most from MUP.
MUP is particularly effective at reducing the amount of alcohol drunk by harmful drinkers as they tend to buy most of the cheap alcohol. Harmful drinkers on low incomes will benefit most in terms of improved health and wellbeing.
5. MUP targets cheap, strong alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences.
Drinks like own brand vodka or gin, strong white cider and super strength lager, mostly produced in the United Kingdom, will be affected. It will not affect pubs, clubs and restaurants.
6. MUP works with taxation to regulate alcohol price.
The EU excise duty structure for wine and cider prevents targeting drinks by strength. EU rules are that a 15% wine carries the same excise duty as an 11% wine and a 4% cider the same as a 7.5% cider, whereas MUP allows the price on the shelf to relate directly to the alcohol content.
7. MUP is legal in Scotland but has yet to be implemented.
UK and EU trade laws allow in principle for the setting of a minimum price for the retail sale of alcohol for public health purposes by a government or public authority. The Scottish legislation was passed without opposition in May 2012. The Minimum Unit Price (MUP) was set at 50p per unit. The legislation should have been implemented in April 2013.
8. Global alcohol producers have blocked MUP implementation with legal challenges
Legislation to introduce a Minimum Unit Price of 50p was passed without opposition by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012. The legislation was due to come into force in April 2013 but has yet to come to do so because a consortium of global alcohol producers, fronted by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), Spirits Europe and the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) has fought its implementation every step of the way. Many Scottish-based alcohol producers, along with the licensed trade association, have supported the measure.
Download SHAAP's press release following the Advocate General's opinion here.
SHAAP has published a report documenting the full proceedings of the historic event in Brussels on 5th September 2014 when the case for Alcohol Minimum Pricing was made by its supporters. This happened as the European Court of Justice considered its response to the attempts of global alcohol producers, fronted by the Scotch Whisky Association to block the implementation of this legislation.
Download the key arguments for Alcohol Minimum Pricing in Scotland here.
Download the Scottish Government's Position Statement on Alcohol Minimum Pricing here.
Sign our Declaration of Support here.
Open letter from SHAAP and Health partners to the Scotch Whisky Association, 1st April 2014: Stop fighting Minimum Unit Pricing now to save Scottish lives.
You can also raise the profile of this issue by using the hashtag #MUPsaveslives on your communications.