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Neil urges EC to back Scotland's plans for alcohol minimum pricing

The Health Secretary is making a last-minute attempt to persuade health ministers in the European Union to back his plan for a minimum unit price for alcohol.

Several EU trade ministers have raised objections to the Scottish Government's plan to set a 50p price per unit of alcohol on the grounds that it would inhibit trade of their own alcohol products.

The European Commission's consultation on the SNP-administration's proposals closes today and Health Secretary Alex Neil said he is asking trade ministers throughout the EU to back minimum pricing.

"It's true that their trade ministers have lodged an objection but when you talk to their health ministers you get a different view," he told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme.

"So, I'm communicating with the health ministers throughout the EU to persuade them to lend their voice within their governments and the EU Commission to our cause."

The EC believes minimum pricing on alcohol is incompatible with EU regulations and should not be introduced, according to its own commentary on the proposals released last month.

It would prefer a wholesale increase in all alcohol prices through raising taxes, something outwith Holyrood's control, or unspecified measures in Scottish regions where alcohol abuse is a problem rather than penalise the entire population.

But Mr Neil said such measures would not have the same impact as minimum pricing.

"We are working with the UK Government to persuade the EC that this is the right thing to do and to allow minimum unit pricing," he said.

"There is no other method that has the same impact as minimum pricing and that is shown with evidence throughout the world.

"The problem with taxation is that it doesn't actually tax those drinks which are causing the main problem."

Mr Neil said he also believes a minimum alcohol price would bring food prices down as it would restrict supermarkets' ability to use discounted alcohol as a loss-leader to tempt customers into their stores in the hope they will also buy other full-price products.

He said he doesn't expect to be in a position to start implementing the proposals until well into next year.

"We've always said we would not implement the legislation while court action was ongoing because we want to give due respect to the courts," he said.

"It will certainly be well into 2013, and beyond that it is too hard to predict."

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: "Doctors in the UK, and internationally, recognise the importance of introducing pricing mechanisms to reduce alcohol-related health harm.

"One of the most effective ways to provide a targeted intervention is to increase the price of cheap, high alcohol content products. That is why the BMA has supported the introduction of legislation for a minimum unit price for alcohol in Scotland.

"It is important that the member states of the EU consider the positive health impacts of minimum pricing on their populations. There is clear evidence that increasing price will reduce consumption and thereby reduce the health harms associated with excessive drinking.

"I hope that 2013 is the year when Scotland leads the world by introducing this landmark policy."

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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