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MSPs reject minimum price proposal

The idea of imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol in Scotland has suffered a huge blow as Labour and Tory MSPs voted against the proposal.

The fiscal measure, part of the Scottish Parliament’s Alcohol Bill, was rejected last week, publicly exposing the questionable legality, practicality and efficacy of such a measure to tackle Scotland’s binge drinking problems.
Following the rejection, Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson said: “The minimum unit price fails on lack of evidence… it fails to tackle the night-economy drunkenness, it fails to tackle the culture of drinking, it fails to protect the poorest third from what could be punitive tax increases.”
Meanwhile, Munro Fraser, the Conservative health spokesperson, declared the decision was “the end of the road for minimum pricing.”
The drinks industry has been vocal in its criticisms of minimum pricing ever since the suggestion was recommended, in particular pointing out the potential legal challenges arising from state interference in pricing.
the drinks business has also has been clear on the proposal’s problems, highlighting the danger of promising something that would be impossible to deliver.

Above all, it has been repeatedly asked how this cumbersome, blanket fiscal measure would actually reduce alcohol misuse.
However, although minimum pricing has been rejected, the coalition government has indicated it is considering banning below-cost selling.
Such a policy is also beset with practical difficulties, but the Wine and Spirit Trade Association has said it will support the measure if it means preventing the sale of products cheaper than the cost of duty plus VAT, on the grounds that these are both consumer taxes and should therefore be passed onto the end user.
But, like setting a minimum unit price for alcohol, it is hard to see how this measure will have any impact on binge drinking or alcohol dependency.
The solution lies in a focus on education with an emphasis on the dangers and consequences of excessive drinking, as well as the enforcement of existing laws where problems persist.

Patrick Schmitt, 16.06.2010

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