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A minimum unit price for alcohol moves a legal step nearer in Scotland

An important legal step has been taken towards the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has concluded that minimum unit pricing is legal if it is shown to be more effective than taxation measures.

The legislation to bring in a minimum price of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, and similar steps have been considered across the UK.

However, the ECJ ruling does recommend the introduction of alternative tax measures.

In September, the ECJ’s Advocate General Yves Bot recommended that minimum unit pricing would be compatible with European law if it is shown to have additional advantages or fewer disadvantages than alternative measures.

The ECJ has today reached a similar conclusion and the case will now return to the Court of Session.

A legal challenge was brought by the Scottish Whisky Assoication, which argued the Scottish government’s legislation breached European law.

The European court ruling said: “The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol.”

Commenting, Chair of BMA Scotland Dr Peter Bennie, said: “The case for minimum unit pricing has always been based on the fact that it achieves what taxation cannot when it comes to reducing the harm caused by alcohol, so the decision of the European Court setting out the test that must be applied to the policy is a welcome one.

“The ruling returns the case to the Scottish courts and puts Scotland a step closer to implementing minimum pricing. The Scottish Parliament first legislated for minimum pricing in 2012, but as 2016 approaches it has still not been implemented.”

Meanwhile, Public Health England is currently trying to encourage people to take a break from alcohol after Christmas with its Dry January campaign.

“A period of abstinence could help encourage less harmful, better drinking habits in the long-term – even six months later, evidence from Dry January shows that more than two-thirds of participants are still drinking less,” said PHE’s Dr Yvonne Doyle.

On minimum pricing, Bennie concluded: “Every year of delay carries with it a human cost in lives lost and health damaged. Last year saw an increase in both the volume of alcohol sales and the number of alcohol related deaths.

“The need to implement minimum pricing remains as pressing as ever and those who have sought to delay it in the courts have failed to act in the public interest.”

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