Scientists call on MSPs to support minimum pricing for alcohol proposals

Published: 21 January 2010

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has called on MSPs to back plans for minimum pricing for alcohol, as laid out in a draft bill proposed by the Scottish Government.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has called on MSPs to back plans for minimum pricing for alcohol, as laid out in a draft bill proposed by the Scottish Government.

In a response to the proposed legislation, the Fellowship of the RSE, which includes experts in health, public policy, economics and law, said there is a strong connection between alcohol pricing and consumption and urged the measures to be introduced as soon as possible.

Speaking on behalf of the RSE, Professor Anna Dominiczak, Head of the Division of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences and the British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, and Council member of the RSE, said: “Excessive alcohol consumption is clearly a major problem in contemporary Scotland and the effects of alcohol misuse on Scottish society have been quantified in a recent study1 from the York Health Economics Consortium.

“The scientific evidence suggests a strong relationship between comparatively low cost and easy accessibility of alcohol on the one hand and alcohol consumption on the other. There is abundant epidemiological evidence of an inverse relationship between cost and rates of alcoholic cirrhosis.

“The problem, however, is more complex and other factors undoubtedly contribute. There is regrettably widespread lack of awareness of the adverse effects of alcohol. Public health measures and preventative medicine have not been effective. The message of ‘safe limits’ is always a difficult one to get across to the public; some of the hard-hitting techniques used more recently to encourage people to quit smoking have not been employed to address excessive alcohol consumption.

“At the same time changes, in social behaviour have led to greater alcohol consumption and an increased tendency to binge drinking, whilst intolerance of drunkenness appears to have decreased in some communities. Further, there is also the issue of aggressive marketing by the drinks industry combined with irresponsible promotion by retailers.

“It is essential that action is taken to address the problem that exists in Scotland and this will in broad terms have to involve means of reducing ‘availability’. The success of the Scottish Parliament’s bold decision to ban smoking in public buildings shows that well-considered, decisive action coupled with political leadership on a major issue of public concern can be highly effective and the RSE now calls on MSPs to show the same bold leadership in tackling Scotland’s alcohol consumption problem”.

The RSE has stressed that any minimum pricing should not be too low as to be ineffectual, noting that the Government had not yet specified the price per unit that would be introduced.

While a figure of 40 pence per unit has been used by ministers as an example, the RSE posits this level of pricing would be insufficient in achieving a reduction in consumption as it would only affect a small percentage of off-sales products. It suggests a minimum price per unit of at least 50 pence.

The Society also suggested that the Scottish and UK Governments should, in future, consider a joint approach to the issue of the cost of alcohol and reducing its consumption, for example, through increased duty and taxation.

The use of minimum pricing alone would not be enough to reduce consumption, the Society warned, and suggested the rigorous enforcement of existing legislation to deal with the sale of alcohol to minors is also necessary.

For more information contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email


The RSE’s full response to the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Bill is published on the website

1. The Societal Cost of Alcohol Misuse in Scotland for 2007; York Health Economics Consortium, University of York; January 2010

First published: 21 January 2010

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