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expert reaction to UK supreme court ruling that the Scottish government can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

 

Prof. Alastair Leyland, Professor of Population Health Statistics, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, said:

“Alcohol has a large impact on the health of people in Scotland and many other countries.  One problem that has been identified as contributing to this is the affordability of alcohol.  For this reason we welcome the ruling of the UK Supreme Court which clears the path for Scotland to become the first country with a minimum price below which alcohol cannot be sold.  It is upsetting that the 5-year delay caused by legal challenges from the alcohol industry may have resulted in so many more deaths in Scotland.”

 

Dr Vittal Katikireddi, Senior Clinical Research Fellow & Honorary Consultant in Public Health, MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, said:

“The availability of cheap alcohol is a major driver of the high burden of health and social harms which particularly affect the poorest people.  Attempts to delay effective public health measures were an important tactic used by the tobacco industry for many years.  It is disappointing that the alcohol industry has pursued a similar tactic that may have led to many preventable deaths during this time.”

 

Prof. Robin Davidson, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, former Chairman of Alcohol Research UK, and Chairman of UK Smart Recovery, said:

“This is the most important public health legislation in Scotland since the smoking ban in public places was introduced there in March 2006.

“The economic evidence that minimum unit price reduces per capita alcohol consumption across all drinkers, thereby reducing alcohol related harm, has been indisputable for decades.

“In a short time we will see improvement in everything from liver disease to Scottish life expectancy.

“My only hope that this will provide fresh impetus for similar legislative change in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

 

Prof. Peter Anderson, Professor of Substance Use, Policy and Practice, Newcastle University, said:

“Having been first approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, introducing a minimum price per gram or unit of alcohol is long overdue, and should be rolled out throughout the rest of the United Kingdom (as well as the Republic of Ireland) as quickly as possible.

“The University of Sheffield estimated that a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol would save over 100 deaths per year in Scotland1.  Those responsible for the five-year delay are collectively responsible for an estimated 500 preventable deaths of Scottish people and should be held accountable for them.”

1 https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.565373!/file/Scotland_report_2016.pdf

 

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, Senior Lecturer in Alcohol Studies, University of Stirling, said:

“Much of the media coverage of this issue has considered the merits of minimum unit pricing as if it were intended to solve all alcohol problems for good.  It is not expected that MUP will result in huge numbers of people quitting drinking, and that has never been the aim of the policy.  Even small reductions in consumption can lead to significant health benefits and this is particularly true in heavier drinkers and those on low incomes.

“Furthermore, minimum unit pricing is clearly, and has always been, one of a package of measures to reduce alcohol-related harms and its impact will be evaluated.  In the meantime, alcohol continues to be highly available and heavily marketed and governments could do more.  It is hoped that the Scottish Government will continue to innovate in alcohol policy as it refreshes the national alcohol strategy, and take heart from this judgement to be bold in future public health policy.”

 

Prof. Eileen Kaner, Professor of Public Health & Primary Care Research, Newcastle University, said:

“In 2010, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended Minimum Unit Price as a key evidence-based intervention to prevent alcohol-related harm across the population.  It is a shame that seven years have passed in which alcohol harms to heavy drinkers, and many other affected people, could have been averted.  Today’s ruling is a welcome endorsement of evidence-based public health policy which should be implemented across the whole of the UK.”

 

Prof. Petra Meier, Director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, University of Sheffield, said:

“Our research has consistently shown that minimum unit pricing would reduce alcohol-related health problems in Scotland by targeting the cheap, high strength alcohol consumed by the heaviest and highest risk drinkers.  Moderate drinkers would be affected to a much smaller degree.

“It is estimated that once it has reached its full effect, the introduction of a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would result in 120 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 2000 fewer hospital admissions per year.”

 

* UK supreme court judgement: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0025-judgment.pdf

UK supreme court press summary: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0025-press-summary.pdf

 

Declared interests

Dr Vittal Katikireddi: “I am a member of the Grant Advisory Panel of Alcohol Research UK, an investigator on a NIHR-funded research study to evaluate minimum unit pricing of alcohol and an honorary Consultant in Public Health Medicine at NHS Health Scotland.”

Prof. Alastair Leyland: “I have been funded by the NIHR to evaluate the minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland.”

Prof. Robin Davidson: “I have no other conflict of interest.”

Prof. Peter Anderson: “I have received fees from AB InBev Foundation.”

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald: “I am involved in some of the studies which will evaluate the impact of minimum unit pricing.”

Prof. Eileen Kaner: “I chaired the NICE Public Health guidance PH24 which was published in 2010 and which recommended MUP as a strategy to help prevent alcohol-related harm in adults and adolescents.  I was also a member of the CMO’s scientific expert group of recommendations for low risk drinking.”

Prof. Petra Meier: “the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield provided the key evidence on which the minimum unit pricing is based.”

 

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