The Scottish Government has been urged to “regain the momentum” on policies to tackle alcohol abuse after the coronavirus pandemic.
Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap), has called on MSPs to push forward with policies aimed at stemming problem drinking two years after minimum unit pricing began.
The policy was brought in on May 1, 2018 after being passed in 2012 and prevents alcohol being sold for under 50p per unit.
The gap between the passage of the Bill and its coming into effect was due to a number of alcohol producers raising a legal challenge against the legislation.
The Scottish Government has predicted that in the first five years of the policy being in force, alcohol-related deaths will fall by 400 and there will be 8,000 fewer admissions to hospital.
Despite the policy change, Shaap director Dr Eric Carlin said: “As we move to a post-Covid-19 ‘new normality’, we will need to build on progress made prior to the pandemic and to regain the momentum with policies, including minimum unit pricing that reduce alcohol-related harms, which disproportionately affect the poorest communities.”
Shaap chairman Dr Peter Rice said there has been a “substantial fall” in the number of deaths in the 24 months since the policy took effect.
He added: “We welcome this progress and look forward to continued work to reduce further the harm which comes from alcohol in Scotland.”
Alcohol Focus Scotland has said it is “unlikely” the lockdown measures currently in place to tackle coronavirus will improve Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
Chief executive Alison Douglas said: “This only serves to underline why, as well as ensuring people have access to services, we need to keep focused on longer term preventative policies like minimum unit pricing.
“The Scottish Government has a strong track record in tackling alcohol harm and they must continue to prioritise the nation’s health and wellbeing as part of our longer-term recovery from this crisis.”
According to the Scottish Government, alcohol off-sales dropped by 3.6% in the first year of the policy.
A spokesman said: “Minimum unit pricing is a landmark and world-leading policy that promises to make a significant positive difference to public health in Scotland.
“A comprehensive independent evaluation of the impact of minimum unit pricing is being undertaken by Public Health Scotland.
“This covers the five-year period since the introduction of this policy, and we are only two years into this evaluation. The final evaluation report will be produced in 2023 and will go before the Scottish Parliament.”