SNP brings in min­i­mum pric­ing... so Scots buy an ex­tra 2m bot­tles of wine!

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

A CRACK­DOWN on cheap booze in Scot­land saw a mas­sive in­crease in the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol, shock­ing fig­ures show.

Min­i­mum unit pric­ing was in­tro­duced ear­lier this year as the main plank of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s bat­tle to tackle prob­lem drink­ing.

But rather than cut­ting back, in the three months af­ter the law came into force, Scots drank sig­ni­fi­ciantly more.

Over­all, an ad­di­tional 1.8 mil­lion litres of booze – equiv­a­lent to four mil­lion cans of lager or more than two mil­lion bot­tles of wine – were drunk, com­pared with the same time the pre­vi­ous year.

The SNP promised that the 50p per unit min­i­mum on of­fli­cence sales would save lives ‘within months’.

But far from re­duc­ing their in­take, peo­ple have moved onto other drinks and are con­sum­ing even more. Ac­cord­ing to data spe­cial­ist Nielsen, drinkers north of the Bor­der spent 14 per cent more on booze and put away 4 per cent more in the first three months the law was in force.

The vol­ume of al­co­hol con­sumed from shops – as op­posed to pubs, restau­rants and night­clubs, which were not af­fected by min­i­mum pric­ing – was the high­est recorded dur­ing the three years for which Nielsen can pro­vide data.

In May, June and July this year shop­pers spent £287.4 mil­lion on 55.8 mil­lion litres of al­co­holic drinks, com­pared with £252.1 mil­lion on 53.7 mil­lion litres in the same pe­riod last year.

There has been a surge in vod­kas, gins and ready mixed drinks, such as cans of gin and tonic or rum and coke. And while there has been a 34 per cent shift away from cider – one of the main tar­gets of min­i­mum unit pric­ing – there has been an equiv­a­lent rise in sales of fizzy wines.

It is hugely em­bar­rass­ing for Min­is­ters, who have in­sisted for years that min­i­mum pric­ing would cut con­sump­tion and save lives. In 2013, then SNP Health Sec­re­tary Alex Neil said: ‘Min­i­mum pric­ing will be­gin sav­ing lives within months of its in­tro­duc­tion.’

Min­is­ters also pointed to re­search which claimed it would save 392 lives in its first five years. How­ever, they have more re­cently ad­mit­ted that the 50p per unit min- imum, set in 2012, may now be out of date. Calls for it to be in­creased will only be­come louder, if con­sump­tion con­tin­ues to rise.

Gemma Cooper, of Nielsen, said: ‘In the first three months fol­low­ing the leg­is­la­tion’s in­tro­duc­tion, the value of al­co­hol sales in Scot­land grew by 14 per cent, in part driven by a 10 per cent in­crease in prices.

‘In­ter­est­ingly, vol­ume sales in the off-trade also in­creased, by 4 per cent.

The Scot­tish Tories warned the Gov­ern­ment may need to think again about how it tack­les the na­tion’s al­co­hol prob­lems.

Miles Briggs, Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive health spokesman, said: ‘Al­though early days, these find­ings sug­gest that min­i­mum unit pric­ing is not hav­ing the de­sired ef­fect of ac­tu­ally re­duc­ing al­co­hol con­sump­tion in Scot­land.’

How­ever, re­tail­ers warned against in­creas­ing the min­i­mum price fur­ther.

Ewan Mac­Don­ald-Rus­sell, of the Scot­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium, said: ‘The pol­icy should be eval­u­ated at 50p over a rep­re­sen­ta­tive time­frame to un­der­stand what the longterm im­pli­ca­tions are.

‘It would be knee-jerk pol­i­cy­mak­ing of the worst kind to look at chang­ing the price so soon af­ter this pol­icy was im­ple­mented.’

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said it will not know if the pol­icy is a suc­cess for five years.

‘Min­i­mum pric­ing is not hav­ing the de­sired ef­fect’

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