The case to implement a minimum unit price of alcohol in Scotland is to be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, it was announced today.
The Inner House of the Court of Session delivered its opinion today to both parties.
Health Secretary Alex Neil welcomed the referral from the courts and stressed that it was right this “precedent-setting case” was considered by the European Court of Justice, the highest authority on EU law.
He said: “The Scottish Government has always believed that minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do and will save lives. Scotland has a difficult relationship with alcohol and we need to urgently take action to tackle this problem that puts a huge burden on our society.
“The evidence shows that minimum unit pricing is an effective way to tackle alcohol-related harm. This is because it targets heavy drinkers in particular as they tend to drink the cheap, high strength alcohol that will be most affected by the policy.
“That is why I welcome the referral to European Court of Justice. Scotland is leading the way in Europe. We are confident of our case and look forward to presenting it in the European Court of Justice.
“While it is regrettable that this means we will not be able to implement minimum unit pricing sooner, we will continue our on-going and productive dialogue with EU officials. In fact, I am in Brussels today to discuss the increasing interest among other European Union members, including Ireland and Estonia, in bringing forward a minimum unit pricing policy.”
Notes to editors
Following the Outer House hearing in the Court of Session last January, Lord Doherty’s judgement in May 2013 provided overwhelming support to the Scottish Government policy of minimum unit pricing.
Lord Doherty held that none of the petitioners’ challenges to the minimum unit pricing measures were well founded and that there was no proper basis for the petitioners being granted any of the remedies which they sought.
The Scotch Whisky Association’s grounds of appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session were that Lord Doherty erred in several aspects. The appeal hearing focused on what the aim of minimum unit pricing is, whether this aim could be achieved using alcohol excise duties which would be less distortive to the free movement of goods (article 34 of TFEU) and whether the policy was proportionate to protect public health and therefore justifiable under article 36 of TFEU.
It is likely to take over a year to receive a judgement from the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2012 the average length of preliminary reference proceedings from the date of the reference to the date of the judgement was 15.7 months.
Irish Health Minister Alex White TD, on introducing minimum pricing in the Irish Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, October 2013 - “The Government has recognised the severe consequences of the misuse of alcohol – including deaths, injuries and social and financial problems – and has determined to take action to address this problem. The package of measures…will include provision for minimum unit pricing for alcohol products and the regulation of advertising and marketing of alcohol.” (Health Department Press Release, 24 October 2013)
Mr. Taavi Rõivas, previously Minister of Social Affairs and now Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia said: “Estonia shares Scotland’s concern over the negative impact of alcohol on health and we have similar problems in this field…We will continue to monitor the international evidence for minimum pricing and analyse the possibilities and the impacts of establishing minimum pricing in Estonia. It is essential for member countries to use the most effective measures possible to solve important public health problems.” (28 October 2013)
- Scots drink a fifth more than their counterparts in England and Wales, fuelling the much higher levels of alcohol-related harm.
- Hospital admissions have quadrupled since the early 1980s.
- On average there are around 700 hospital admissions and 20 deaths a week due to alcohol misuse.
- Alcohol misuse is costing Scotland £3.6 billion each year – £900 for every adult.
- Alcohol is now around 60% more affordable than it was in 1980 with this trend being driven by the off-trade – off-trade sales increased by 45% between 1994 and 2012 compared to a fall in the on-trade of 34%.
- It is now estimated that around two-thirds of alcohol sold in Scotland is now sold through the off-trade.
- Price distribution of alcohol sold through the off-trade in Scotland in 2012 shows that 60% of alcohol was sold below 50p per unit. Within this:
- 83% of vodka was sold below 50p per unit;
- 64% of whisky was sold below 50p per unit;
- 44% of wine was sold below 50p per unit;
- 65% of beer was sold below 50p per unit;
- 75% of cider was sold below 50p per unit.
- A 50p per unit minimum price would increase the price of a 70cl bottle of whisky to £14. Whilst this will impact on the likes of supermarket own label whisky, the premium products are unlikely to be directly affected.