SUPERMARKETS are being blamed for a surge in alcohol consumption, with off-sales doing their best business in 
20 years.

Drinking levels in Scotland have been in decline since 2007, but the trend has reversed owing to an upturn in the economy coupled with supermarket sales of cheaper alcohol.

About 10.8 litres of pure alcohol was sold per adult last year – the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 477 pints of beer for every drinker in Scotland or 20.8 units a week.

Alcohol sales are 20 per cent higher than in England and Wales.

The Herald:

Research by NHS Health Scotland says three-quarters of all drink sold in Scotland was through supermarkets and off-licences – the highest market share since recording began in 1994.

Legislation to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit in Scotland has been delayed following a legal challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association to the European Court of Justice.

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Public health experts argue the latest figures on alcohol sales strengthen the case for minimum pricing on alcoholic drinks.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the appetite for domestic drink was being fuelled by “really low prices” and promotions “encouraging us to consume more”.

The Herald:

She said: “Scotland is now a nation of home drinkers, with more alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences than ever before.

“The more affordable alcohol is the more we drink. This means more alcohol-
related hospital admissions, crime and deaths. Politicians across the Scottish Parliament understood this evidence when they passed minimum unit pricing legislation four years ago.”

And Ms Douglas said it was “disappointing” a “life-saving measure” to cut drinking was held up by the courts.

“[The Scottish Whisky Association’s] defence of cheap vodka and cider is somewhat at odds with the ‘iconic’ image of Scotch. Like the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry is placing profits before people’s health.”

Sales of spirits increased for the first time in six years, while the purchase of wine is at the highest levels for 20 years. More than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit.

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Levels of public alcohol consumption had fallen to about 10.6 litres or lower in recent years, but Professor Linda Bauld, a public health expert specialising in cancer and based at Stirling University, said a higher rate of disposable income and an improving economy was boosting drinking levels.

“Buying alcohol in Scottish retail outlets, particularly supermarkets, has become more affordable due to the freeze on duty on spirits and beer in the context of improved household incomes. This may in part explain increased consumption, and underlines the need for minimum unit pricing that targets the cheapest products consumed by heavier drinkers.

The Herald:

“Action on price is important because seven types of cancer are linked to 
drinking too much alcohol.”

Professor Petra Meier, one of a Sheffield University team that carried out research into minimum pricing in Scotland, said the trend reversal in drinking levels was the result of alcohol becoming more affordable.

Ms Meier’s research found minimum pricing would effectively target high-risk drinkers without affecting people on low incomes who drink in moderation.

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It found a minimum price would reduce deaths and hospital admissions among high-risk drinkers who purchase large quantities of low-cost alcohol.

The new research found that of the alcohol sold in Scotland in shops, more than half (51 per cent) was sold at less than 50p per unit, the minimum 
unit price sought by the Scottish Government.

Two thirds of the higher alcohol sales in Scotland was sold through off-sales.

The Herald:

Dr Mark Robinson, senior public health information manager at NHS Health Scotland, said: “Higher levels of alcohol consumption result in higher levels of alcohol-related harm and these present a substantial public health and economic cost to Scotland. Policies that reduce the availability of low priced, high-strength alcohol are the most effective for reducing alcohol-related harms and narrowing health inequalities.”

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