The Scottish Government is to consult on a proposal to raise the minimum unit price of alcohol to 65p.
A 50p minimum price per unit was introduced in 2018 but that legislation will expire in April next year.
Drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham said future proposals would strike a “reasonable balance” between health benefits and the effects on business.
She said: “The recent rise in alcohol-specific deaths highlights the need for more to be done to tackle alcohol-related harm.
“Our world-leading minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy is one of the measures we know can make a difference.
“Recent research estimated it has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions each year – and also contributed to reducing health inequalities. It is one of a range of measures we have in place across prevention and treatment services to reduce alcohol harm.
“We believe the proposals set out in this consultation strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers, but we want to hear from all sides and urge everyone to take the time to respond.”
The consultation comes after figures released in August showed 1,276 people died from alcohol last year, the highest figure since 2008.
Under the 65p MUP, a 700ml bottle of Scotch whisky would cost a bare minimum of £18.20.
The same volume of vodka or gin would have a minimum price of £17.07.
A pack of four 440ml cans of cider would cost at least £5.15, while a pack of four beer cans of the same size would cost at least £5.72.
The consultation will continue for nine weeks, after which ministers will make a final decision on whether MUP should continue and what the unit price will be.
Responding to the plans, Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats were the first party to call for this change, so I am glad that ministers have listened.
“If MUP doesn’t move with inflation then the ambition of the policy is eroded. More than 20 people a week are dying in Scotland due to alcohol misuse.
“This is shocking and preventable, so we need to take steps to stop alcohol wrecking lives and communities.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said increasing the minimum unit price to 65p would “only hit responsible drinkers during a cost-of-living crisis”.
He added: “The launching of a second consultation shows even SNP ministers have concerns over any significant changes to their flagship minimum unit pricing policy.
“Alcohol deaths are at their highest level since 2008 on the SNP’s watch and it is clear their blanket approach to tackling this crisis is simply not working, or supporting those who most need help with alcohol addiction.
“Ministers had to amend a press release boasting of its success and were criticised for cherry-picking from one particular study to try and suit their narrative.
“If SNP ministers are serious about reducing the level of alcohol deaths, then they should finally give their backing to the Right to Recovery Bill. That has been backed by frontline experts and would guarantee people access to treatment.”
Earlier this year, Public Health Scotland (PHS) said the 50p minimum charge – placed on each unit of alcohol in 2018 – has had a “positive impact”, with alcohol deaths down by 13.4% since the initiative came into effect.
The report by PHS estimated there were about 150 fewer deaths on average each year, and 400 fewer hospital admissions.
Following the report’s publication, Alcohol Focus Scotland – along with 29 charities and medical organisations – called on the Scottish Government to uprate the minimum unit price to at least 65p per unit.
Elinor Jayne, director of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said: “As minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol is going to be coming to a vote in the Scottish Parliament in the coming months, this new report setting out the impact of MUP at different levels is very timely.
“It makes it clear how much potential the policy has for saving more lives and reducing the burden of alcohol in our poorest communities where the deaths from alcohol are the highest.
“Given Sheffield Alcohol Research Group’s positive track record on modelling of MUP, it’s important that the Scottish Government use this latest research to inform their recommendation to Parliament at which level to set MUP from May next year.
“We believe that it should be at least 65p to restore MUP’s impact since 50p was first put in legislation more than ten years ago, and that thereafter it should automatically be uprated to maintain alcohol’s relative affordability to other products.
“This way we will start to realise the full benefits of MUP and the Scottish Government can then take forward other measures such as restricting alcohol marketing and investing in treatment services for people with alcohol problems.”
A Scottish Government report on the operation and effect of MUP in its first five years was published on Wednesday, along with an interim business and regulatory impact assessment and a report on public attitudes to the policy.
The papers assess the success of the measure so far and look at the future impact on health and industry sectors if it is continued and the potential effects of different minimum price levels.
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