Scottish alcohol minimum unit price takes effect

Out-Law News | 01 May 2018 | 3:46 pm | 1 min. read

Alcoholic drinks sold in Scotland must be priced at a minimum of 50p per unit from today.

The policy is a world first, and is intended to address the harms to health caused by the sale and consumption of cheap, strong alcohol and reduce alcohol-related crime.

Licensing law expert Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the impact of minimum unit pricing in Scotland would be watched with interest, particularly by other UK governments which are considering similar policies.

"Opinion is divided still on how effective minimum unit pricing will be," she said.

"The policy has been heralded by the health lobby as a panacea. On the other hand, 'booze cruises' across the border are already being predicted, as well as an increase in online sales delivered from England," she said.

The Scottish government previously committed to a review of the policy after five years while a 'sunset' provision, included in the relevant legislation, means that it will expire after six years unless renewed by a ministerial decision which receives the positive approval of the Scottish parliament.

The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Scotland Act was passed by the Scottish parliament in May 2012, however its entry into force was delayed by a legal challenge brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other European wine and spirits trade bodies. The policy was ultimately cleared by the UK Supreme Court in November 2017.

The 50p minimum unit price means that a bottle of 40% whisky cannot be sold for less than £14, while a bottle of 37.5% vodka cannot be sold for less than £13.13. A bottle of 12.5% wine must be priced at £4.69 or above, while a two litre bottle of 7.5% strong cider will cost at least £7.50.

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described the policy as "bold and brave".

"It's no secret that Scotland has a troubled relationship with alcohol," she said. "There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 697 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family and a community badly affected by alcohol misuse."

"Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families," she said.