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Alcohol Minimum Unit Price case to be decided by European courts

The Court of Session, Scotland's supreme civil court, has referred today the Scottish Alcohol Minimum Unit Price (MUP) for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union. This follows an appeal from the alcohol industry to the last year’s verdict on the matter.

In May 2012, The Scottish Parliament passed The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 setting the 50p minimum unit price (MUP) as part of an effort to tackle alcohol misuse.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other European wine and spirits producers took action against the proposal claiming that it breaches the UK's European Union (EU) treaty obligations because it would restrain trade. They also maintain it will be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse and say it will penalise responsible drinkers and damage the industry.

In response to today’s judgement from the Court of Session that minimum unit pricing is to be referred to Europe, Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

If the appeal judges feel that clarification is needed on technical matters then we can only hope that this process does not drag on. Every week that minimum pricing is delayed, another twenty Scots lose their lives because of alcohol. It is frustrating to see a policy that has been agreed through the democratic process being held up by big business, who care more about protecting profits than the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland.

Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said:

A minimum unit price of 50p will get rid of the ultra-cheap alcohol which is blighting the lives of too many people, families and communities across Scotland. We have had detailed consideration of this measure over an extended period. Minimum pricing should have been implemented over a year ago and further delay is bad for Scotland’s health and wellbeing. Scotland has led the way in Europe with interest in minimum unit pricing growing daily. Countries including Wales, Ireland, Poland and Estonia are all keen to see the results of this important measure which we believe will save many lives.

“Today’s decision and the ensuing delay to Minimum Unit Pricing will have impacts on other European Countries waiting to implement similar policies. This innovative policy measure is under consideration in Ireland and Estonia with other countries expected to follow suit. The European Court of Justice must understand the importance of pricing and fiscal measures, which are some of the most effective methods to tackle alcohol related harm and see past this baseless – and undemocratic - attempt by the alcohol industry towaste taxpayers money on lengthy court battles in order to protect their profits,” said Emma Woodford EPHA Interim Secretary General.

Minimum pricing has been favoured by health professionals as an effective strategy to address the growing health crisis that has resulted from the increased affordability of alcoholic beverages in some countries” has said Mariann Skar, Secretary General of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare). “There is sound evidence that if the measure is introduced substantial health and social benefits will follow. European law should not be invoked to defeat alcohol harm reduction strategies since the well-being of the population and the promotion of public health are the objectives of the European treaties” she added.

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Court of Session ruling

Scottish Government response