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SWA slams minimum unit pricing ahead of EU court ruling

Published:  18 December, 2015

The Scottish Whisky Association has reiterated its opposition to minimum-unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland, prior to a ruling on the subject from the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is due on December 23.

The Scottish Whisky Association has reiterated its opposition to minimum-unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland, prior to a ruling on the subject from the European Court of Justice, which is due on December 23.

The SWA's position, stated in a briefing note published earlier this week, is based on health, economic, legal and public policy grounds.

With regard to the MUP's utility in reducing alcohol harm, the SWA points to evidence from Sheffield University that most hazardous drinking is done by individuals in the top 60% of income earners, and that most of the alcohol purchased by these groups will be unaffected by the introduction of MUP.

Conversely, the SWA cites the Scottish government's own data which shows that 33% of the alcohol purchased by responsible drinkers "in poverty" is below 50 pence per unit, as is 22% of the alcohol purchased by responsible drinkers who are not "in poverty".

MUP will therefore hit responsible drinkers hardest, the SWA argues, with those on the lowest incomes suffering the most.

The SWA is also concerned about the damage MUP will do to the whisky industry both domestically and internationally.

It notes that figures from the Scottish government concede that 85% of blended Scotch will be hit in the domestic off-trade, while also arguing that the introduction of MUP in Scotland will set a precedent with could severely damage the industry's export markets.

Scotland's problem with alcohol misuse is real, the SWA says, but it has declined significantly in real terms thanks to a range of effective public policy measures.

Alcohol-related death rates have declined 32% from a peak in 2003, while death rates from alcoholic liver disease have declined by 32% since 2006.

Hospital admissions with alcohol-related problems have declined 22% since 2008.

The Scottish government introduced a 50p MUP on alcohol in 2012. The SWA, together with other industry bodies, challenged the legislation.

However Scotland's Court of Session sided with the government in its 2013 ruling.

The EU's advocate general, Yves Bot, published his preliminary opinion on September 3, which argued that MUP was only legal where there were no other more effective policy options available.

The European has consistently ruled in the past that minimum pricing contravenes free trade principles since it effectively operates as a tax on producers in countries with a lower cost base or who otherwise produce their goods more efficiently.

David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: "We welcome the advocate general's opinion on minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol. The opinion encourages us in our long-held view that MUP is illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available.

"It remains important to address alcohol misuse with a range of other measures of proven effectiveness. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders on this. There is a long-term trend of falling alcohol-related deaths and harms in Scotland which suggests that measures in place are working.

"We await the Court of Justice's final ruling."