The Scottish Government has confirmed it will set a minimum price for alcohol of 50p a unit, despite concerns from some it could see the policy’s effectiveness “considerably reduced”.
It comes after a consultation found almost three quarters (74.3%) in favour of a 50p minimum unit price, although some organisations called for it to be higher.
Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison insisted the policy – which is being introduced on May 1 after the Scottish Government won a lengthy legal battle – would “save thousands of lives”.
But scientists at the Royal Society of Edinburgh said setting minimum pricing at 70p would “reflect a greater degree of ambition”.
Scotland will be the first country in the world to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol after Supreme Court justices in November dismissed a legal challenge that had been brought by the Scotch Whisky Association.
Following the landmark victory, ministers asked for views on what level minimum unit pricing (MUP) should be set at.
Of the 130 organisations and individuals who responded to the consultation, just over half (53.8%) commented on the proposed 50p price.
Of this group, 74.3% supported introducing MUP at this level with 79.2% of organisations and 63.6% of individuals backing it.
An analysis of consultation responses said “a minimum unit price of 50p per unit provides a proportionate response to tackling alcohol misuse, as it strikes a reasonable balance between public health and social benefits and intervention in the market”.
The report stated: “Scottish Ministers will now proceed to propose to the Scottish Parliament that a minimum price of 50p per unit is introduced from May 1, 2018.”
But the Royal Society of Edinburgh pointed out the proposed 50p minimum price had first been suggested in 2011.
The organisation stated: “It is our view that taking into account inflation and other prices rises, the minimum unit price for alcohol could be set at 60p.
“An increase to 60p could be feasible, reflect the changes to the economy since 2011, and could be supported by a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
“A rise to a rate of 70p would reflect a greater degree of ambition and might also be supported and would have a larger effect on the consumption of alcohol and on inequalities of outcomes.
“We have concerns that the 50p rate proposed in 2011 will be introduced now and remain for a further five years, by which time its real value and therefore the effective of MUP will be considerably reduced.”
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said setting MUP at 50p would “impact around half of all products on the shelf”.
And Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said that while the 50p rate had originally been enivsaged prior to the passing of the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act of 2012, it was still “proportionate for now”.
The health campaigners argued: “This would increase the price of the very cheapest drinks, such as ‘white cider’ and supermarket own-brand vodkas to an extent that would significantly impact the most harmful drinkers.
“In addition, this rate (50p) is one that has been the basis of discussion for the past five years and on which it can be deemed that civic society has reached a consensus, with a majority of healthcare professionals, politicians and the public being in favour of MUP set at 50p.”
Ms Robison said: “I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation on our proposed minimum price per unit of alcohol and I am happy to confirm that we will be moving forward with our recommendation of 50p.
“With alcohol on sale today in some places at just 16p per unit, we have to tackle the scourge of cheap, high-strength drink that causes so much damage to so many families. This move will save thousands of lives.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the minimum unit price should be set higher at 60p.
He stated: “In excess, alcohol wrecks lives, families and communities. Low prices for decades have increased that harm caused in Scotland.
“Inflation has eroded the value of the original minimum price during the years that this policy has been caught up in the courts. That is one of the reasons why Scottish Liberal Democrats pressed the Scottish Government to introduce a higher rate but ministers have bottled it.
“With hospitalisations on the rise, we need to see the Scottish Government do far more to tackle the scourge of alcohol abuse.”