Scotland ends cheap booze as minimum price starts

Cheap vodka is one of the drinks affected by the minimum pricing
Image caption,
Vodka is one of the drinks affected by the minimum pricing

The price of cheap, high-strength alcohol has gone up in Scotland as long-awaited legislation on minimum pricing comes into force.

The law, which sets a floor price for drinks depending on how many units of alcohol they contain, was passed in 2012 but has faced legal challenges.

The Scottish government said the move would cut consumption and save lives.

High-strength white cider and cheap own-brand vodka and whisky will see the biggest rise in prices.

Ministers said the idea was to target booze that attracted problem drinkers.

They were concerned that a two-litre bottle of strong cider (7.5 abv), which contained more than the weekly recommended limit for alcohol (14 units), could be bought for as little as £2.50.

It will now cost at least £7.50.

Own brand vodka, gin and whisky will also rise in price by as much as £3 a bottle, as will some cheap wines and multi-pack beers.

Last week, a BBC survey of Scotland's supermarkets found that well-known brand names such as Smirnoff vodka, Famous Grouse whisky and Tennent's lager would also be affected by the minimum price, especially when they are on special offer.

Research by alcohol-concern charities showed that almost three-quarters of Scotland's alcohol is bought from supermarkets and shops.

'Drink put me in hospital for 11 weeks'

Media caption,

David Richardson from Glasgow says he had a good job and a good life before drink took hold

How much? Disbelief at the new cost of cider

Media caption,

These three women are a little taken aback when they find out the new price of a bottle of cider

Pubs, clubs and restaurants are unlikely to be affected by the law as they would have to be selling a pint of lager for about £1.14 or a large glass of wine for £1.50.

The new law is not a tax and any extra revenue from higher prices will go to the supermarkets.

How minimum pricing works

Image caption,
A three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack cider will go up from £4.70 to £11.25

You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (Alcohol by volume - measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000.

A bottle of 70cl (700ml) whisky at 40 abv is 28 units. At 50p per unit of alcohol that means a minimum price of £14.

Vodka, which is not quite as strong (37.5 abv) would be 26.25 units and £13.13.

A 440 ml can of lager (4% abv) would be a minimum of 88p.

Ministers have called the new law a significant step in tackling Scotland's "unhealthy relationship" with alcohol.

The Scottish government claims minimum pricing will save 58 lives in its first year and reduce hospital admissions by 1,300.

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Health Secretary Shona Robison said the policy "targets hazardous and harmful drinkers".

She added: "This policy is geared towards making sure that by increasing the price - particularly of those products that do the most harm - that we will reduce consumption."

Asked about how it would be enforced, Ms Robison insisted policing of the policy would be robust.

"We believe that the licensing standards officers, and the work they do anyway around licensed premises, will be able to make sure that minimum unit pricing is adhered to," she said.

"I don't think anyone is going to want to put their licence at risk because obviously breaching licensing conditions can be a criminal offence and could lead to serious consequences with substantial fines and potentially imprisonment of up to six months."

'Real disincentive'

The medical profession has welcomed the move which finally comes into force after five years of court battles brought by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Dr Christine Goodall, of Medics Against Violence, told BBC Scotland more than 80% of assault victims in hospital emergency departments had been drinking, as had the people who had assaulted them.

She said: "Young people will start drinking at an early age and inevitably they don't have a lot of money to do that.

"So they are probably drinking the cheap alcohol. It will make that much more expensive.

"The hope is that will be a real disincentive to them."

Dr Goodall agrees the policy will not cure all of Scotland's alcohol-related ills.

But she said it was an important plank in a wider attempt to cut the harm it causes, following on from ending buy-one-get-one-free multi-buys and tighter drink-drive laws.

She said: "We are not aiming to get the whole population to stop drinking but it will have an impact on the people who are currently experiencing the most harm."

Once the new law comes in, research will begin to gauge its effectiveness.

It was passed with a "sunset clause" meaning that minimum unit pricing will end in six years if MSPs at Holyrood decide it has not worked.