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Scotland: Minimum pricing calls as alcohol deaths up for second time in successive years

Scotland: Minimum pricing calls as alcohol deaths up for second time in successive years


Herald Scotland

By Gerry Braiden

August 20, 2015

HEAP drink and mass promotion have been blamed for new figures showing the number of alcohol-related deaths in Scotland have increased for the second year in a row.


Statistics unveiled by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) show around 20 deaths a week are connected to alcohol abuse, up five per cent on the previous year.


It has prompted fresh calls from ministers and campaigners for the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, moves which are being legally challenged.


But the figures remain significantly lower than in the early part of the previous decade and around one-quarter less than 2006.


Last year was also the third lowest annual total since 1997, behind 2012 and 2013.


Opponents of minimum pricing have described the figures as an expected year-on-year fluctuation coming amongst a longer-term downward trend.


Describing the figures as “disappointing” in the context of the decreasing trend in recent years, Health Minister Maureen Watt pointed to the cost of drink as being a major contributing factor.


She said: “There is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol-related harm is affordability. This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.


“Alcohol deaths in Scotland are almost double those in the early 1990s.


“The five per cent increase in 2014, following a two per cent rise the previous year, shows that even though significant progress has been made since 2006 far more needs to be done.”


According to the NRS, there were 1,152 alcohol-related-deaths in Scotland in 2014.


More than twice as many men as women died, with 784 male and 368 female deaths. The largest number of deaths was in the 45 to 59 age group, with 482 dying, 10 more than in 2013.


Barbara O’Donnell, acting chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “It is really concerning that alcohol-related deaths have risen again in Scotland.


“Alcohol is a leading cause of ill health, injury and preventable death in Scotland. It is particularly sad that so many Scots die from alcohol-related diseases when they are only in their 40s and 50s.


“People are dying because alcohol is far too cheap, it’s available anytime, anywhere, and it’s too heavily promoted. We need to get minimum unit pricing in place to make the cheapest, strongest drinks less affordable to harmful drinkers.”


Plans by ministers for a minimum price for alcohol are currently on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge at the European Court.


Drinks industry bodies have opposed the legislation, which would see a minimum unit price of 50p brought in north of the Border, since it was passed by MSPs in 2012.


David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “There were 1,152 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland last year, down 25 per cent from a peak of 1,546 in 2006.


“The long-term decline of alcohol-related deaths suggests that measures in place to tackle misuse are working. Year-on-year fluctuations, as happened between 2013 and 2014 are to be expected, but the trend remains encouraging.


“We do not believe minimum unit pricing of alcohol is the right way to tackle misuse. Our view is that it would be ineffective. ”


Last December, it emerged that alcohol consumption in Scotland had dropped by the equivalent of 38 million pints of beer a year after the economy crashed and multi-buy deals were scrapped.


Alcohol sales declined by nine per cent since their peak in 2009 – equivalent to about nine million fewer bottles of wine, three million fewer bottles of spirits or 38 million fewer pints of beer per year.