Scotland

Scots 'drink too much' despite fall in alcohol per person sold

Wine on supermarket shelves
Image caption Supermarket and off-licence sales in Scotland were higher than in England and Wales

Health chiefs have warned that Scots are still drinking too much, despite figures showing a fall in the amount of alcohol sold per person.

According to a report from NHS Health Scotland, the amount of pure alcohol sold per individual fell 3% between 2011 and 2012.

Its spokesman, Mark Robinson, said the recent ban on multi-buy promotions was linked to the fall in sales.

But he added: "We're still drinking too much as a nation."

The alcohol sales report said drink sales were 8% lower than in 2009, the equivalent of about 10 million fewer bottles of wine, three million bottles of spirits or 35 million pints of beer in a year.

The reduction was evident across all drink categories, except cider.

The latest statistics also showed that alcohol sales in Scotland were 6% higher than in 1994 and 19% higher than in England and Wales last year.

Sales of vodka per person in Scotland were more than double the level south of the border.

NHS Scotland said the differences in other parts of the UK were mainly due to higher sales from supermarkets and off-licences in Scotland.

A total of 60% of the alcohol sold in off-sales and supermarkets cost less than 50p per unit - the Scottish government's proposed minimum price for alcohol.

About a quarter of alcohol sold in off-sales cost less than 40p per unit (26%).

Mr Robinson said: "It is good news for Scotland's health and well-being that alcohol consumption is starting to decline.

"We know that the ban on multi-buy promotions was associated with a fall in sales and that alcohol affordability has declined as a result of the challenging economic climate.

"However, although these positive effects are welcome, we're still drinking too much as a nation, and a large proportion of alcohol is still being sold at relatively low prices.

"There is a need to continue action on a number of fronts, including on minimum unit pricing, to ensure the welcome decline in alcohol consumption and harms does not reverse."

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said minimum pricing was needed because cheap drink was the "real source of Scotland's alcohol problem".

He added: "Minimum pricing will save hundreds of lives, prevent thousands of hospital admissions, reduce crime and save the public purse millions in dealing with the consequences of alcohol misuse."

A separate report by NHS Health Scotland showed that of the 10 wine-producing countries that sold most products in Scotland's off-sales, the majority of wine from four nations - Italy, Chile, South Africa and Spain - cost less than 50p per unit.

Wine from Portugal, Bulgaria and Romania, while accounting for a small proportion of wine sold in off-sales, are also more likely to be sold at cheaper prices, according to the report.

Court challenge

The Scottish government wants to see a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

But the legality of the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, is being challenged in court by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and two other trade bodies, spiritsEUROPE and the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins, which represent European spirits and wine producers.

Following the report, the Scotch Whisky Association's Campbell Evans said: "Reducing alcohol consumption among the 30% of the population who consume 80% of the alcohol should be the priority.

"A fall in excessive drinking leading to a drop in overall consumption is to be welcomed rather than focusing on the level of alcohol consumption per se.

"Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is not the way to tackle misuse - it does not target the heaviest drinkers, it would be illegal and it would damage the Scotch whisky industry."

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