It might surprise some people that alcohol consumption and harm have been falling in Scotland for some years now.
Amidst talk of the nation's drink problem, statistics showing an improving situation can sometimes be missed.
A decline in hazardous and harmful drinking and alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions is obviously welcome and shows that measures in place to tackle misuse are having an impact. When consumed responsibly, alcohol is a part of life that brings benefits to Scotland. However, more can always be done and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is dedicated to tackling the problem.
For many years, the SWA and its members, have promoted responsible attitudes to alcohol and have introduced, or taken part in, a number measures to address misuse. Today sees the launch of one of our biggest initiatives to date - the Scotch Whisky Action Fund.
Over five years, the £500,000 fund will help fund projects by charities and other bodies that work to reduce the impact of alcohol-related harm across Scotland. Managed by Foundation Scotland, an independent charity, the fund will support and develop projects delivering targeted interventions to tackle harm among young people, families affected by misuse and communities suffering as a result of irresponsible or excessive consumption. It will support new projects and those with a proven track record.
We are confident the fund will build on the range of areas where we already work ito address on-going issues with alcohol. We are a founding member of the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership; part of the UK Government Responsibility deal; support Drinkaware; and have our own mandatory Code of Practice setting out minimum standards for our members on the marketing and promotion of Scotch Whisky.
This level of commitment explains our consistent and vocal stance against the misguided and untargeted approach of minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol. We maintain the Scottish Government's proposals would be illegal under European law, ineffective and damage the Scotch Whisky industry, a vital part of Scotland's economy and society. When the Government decided to push ahead with MUP we were left with no option but to take legal action, along with spiritsEUROPE and Comite Vins.
We believe MUP would breach European Union trading rules, and we are not alone in this view. Minimum pricing was first ruled an illegal barrier to trade by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) more than 30 years ago.
The European Commission, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have all submitted detailed opinions opposing the proposal and six other countries have voiced their concerns about the Scottish Government's MUP legislation. We also believe that fixing the price of wine produced by other member states infringes the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Court of Session rejected our case in May and our appeal will be heard in February. The court has indicated it will consider whether a reference to the ECJ is necessary after the hearing has concluded. Unlike the initiatives we hope to support through our new Scotch Whisky Action Fund, we believe MUP would be ineffective in tackling misuse. The UK Government has already accepted there is no evidence to suggest it works as it would do little to target those drinking at hazardous and harmful levels and penalise the huge majority who drink responsibly.
Finally, MUP would damage the Scotch Whisky industry by encouraging "health-justified" protectionist barriers to trade around the world which would hit our exports. Meanwhile, at home, the Scottish Government says that around 85% of Blended Scotch Whisky would have to go up in price.
It is unfortunate that MUP has become the focus of so much government activity when there are measures that would actually reach the 30% of the population who drink 80% of the alcohol.
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