Scotland has the eighth-highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, sales figures released by the Scottish Government reveal.

Statistics show that nearly 50 million litres of pure alcohol were consumed in Scotland in 2007 - the equivalent of 11.8 litres for every person aged over 16 - putting the nation above Spain, Italy and France in the World Health Organisation's (WHO) league table of alcohol sales.

The figure is equal to every Scot over 16 drinking 570 pints of normal-strength beer, 125 bottles of wine or 42 bottles of vodka, and enough for every adult to exceed the sensible drinking guidelines for men of 21 units of alcohol per week.

The figures come as a separate report claims almost 1500 Scots are dying every year because of drink and that the country's women are now at a greater risk of dying from alcohol-related disease than men in England.

Experts from Glasgow University and the Medical Research Council compiled details of the alcohol-related mortality rates for all parts of Scotland and found that on average 999 men in Scotland and 448 women die from alcohol-related causes every year.

The rate was highest in Glasgow's Ibrox area, with drink-related death rates are 176 per 100,000 for men and 58.9 per 100,000 for women.

Most of the areas with very high alcohol-related death rates are in the Greater Glasgow region. Across the country the drink-related death rate stands at 38 per 100,000 people for men and 16 per 100,000 for women.

Reports at the weekend also re-emphasised Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statements to The Herald last December that the economic downturn would impact upon plans to force pubs, clubs and off-sales to contribute towards the cost of policing.

It was claimed yesterday that this, along with the proposal for shops to install separate check-outs for alcohol sales, has now been shelved, although Mr MacAskill has reportedly reiterated his determination to press ahead with a ban on two-for-one promotions and to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in supermarkets.

According to the consumption figures, market data which was analysed for the Scottish Government, the amount of alcohol drank in Scotland is higher than England and Wales, where those aged 16 and over drank an average of 9.9 litres of pure alcohol a year.

Luxembourg has the highest level, at 15.6 litres per person, while Ireland is second with 13.7 litres per person and Hungary is third at 13.6 litres per person.

It is also significantly higher than consumption rates in Scandinavian countries, where the price of alcohol is more expensive and the sale of drink is more restricted and is even higher than Russia, where alcohol-related deaths have cut the average life expectancy for men to 59.

Claiming the Scottish Government would "outline the way forward shortly", Public Health Minister Shona Robison said there was "little doubt" that the level of alcohol consumption in Scotland was "largely a consequence of the big fall in alcohol's relative price".

She said: "When it comes to alcohol consumption, Scotland is worryingly close to the top of the international league table.

"Sales data from the alcohol industry itself indicates that we're buying and drinking much more than people in the other UK countries and most of the rest of the world.

"Health experts are now agreed that alcohol misuse is the most pressing public health issue facing Scotland and we have to get to grips with it."

Dr Laurence Gruer, the director of public health science with NHS Health Scotland, added: "These figures put Scotland's alcohol misuse problem in context.

"Taking these figures alongside Scottish Health Survey estimates suggests that around 50% of men and 30% of women may be drinking above weekly limits.

"The consequences of this level of consumption are only too apparent in our hospital wards, emergency departments and on our streets."

Dr Richard Mitchell, who carried out the work on alcohol-related deaths, said the study showed there were "remarkable differences from place to place in alcohol-related deaths" and called for "strong and radical action by the Scottish Government".

He added: "It is interesting that the areas in which alcohol-related deaths are a particular problem are largely the same for men and women. The results suggest to us that both men and women are vulnerable to the social, economic and cultural pressures which can make people drink too much."

The researchers obtained records for alcohol-related deaths between 2000 and 2005 from the General Register Office for Scotland, divided Scotland into 144 areas, and then calculated the death rates for men and women in these areas.

But Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "The SNP's plans to tackle alcohol problems in Scotland have been widely criticised and hugely delayed.

"It's hard to imagine how after almost two years of government their key justice policy could be in a bigger mess."

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