HUMZA Yousaf has been branded the "Scotch Whisky Association's spokesperson" by medics combating alcohol abuse in Scotland

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) - made up of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health  - criticised the First Minister after he promised to tackle Rishi Sunak on a “blatantly unfair” rise in duty.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to challenge Rishi Sunak over 'unfair' whisky tax hike

Mr Yousaf is due to meet the Prime Minister in London this evening. It will be the first time the two men have met face to face, though they have already spoken by phone.

In a statement ahead of the visit, the Scottish Government said the SNP leader would call for the Scotch whisky industry to be treated “fairly” instead of suffering from the “disproportionate” tax changes announced in last month’s budget.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt infuriated the industry when he hiked alcohol duty by 10.1 per cent.

It means the tax burden on an average bottle of whisky in the UK is set to rise from 70% to 75% from August, with £11.40 of the £15.22 average price of a bottle being tax and duty. 

READ MORE: Scotch Whisky Association anger over Chancellor's alcohol duty hike

Elinor Jayne, SHAAP's Director, said Mr Yousaf's criticism of the tax hike was "inconsistent" with Scottish Government policy.

She said: “By acting as the Scottish Whisky Association’s spokesperson in Westminster, the First Minister is undermining his own stated aim of taking ‘preventative action to reduce alcohol harm’.

"Alcohol taxation is one of the most effective ways to reduce alcohol harm, as made clear by the World Health Organization.

"Not only that, to argue for exceptionalism for Scotch whisky is inconsistent with the Scottish Government’s own policy of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol to reduce harm – the same policy which has saved hundreds of lives since its introduction.

"And given only 1% of Scotch whisky is sold in Scotland, the duty hike will have a miniscule impact on the industry, if any."

Ms Jayne claimed the previous duty freezes had led to over 250 additional deaths and 4,500 hospital admissions in Scotland between 2012-2019.

“Alcohol harm is currently one of Scotland’s most pervasive public health issues – with 1,245 alcohol-specific deaths in 2021 and 35,187 alcohol-related hospital stays in 2021/22," she said.

"While MUP has prevented these figures from being worse, there is clearly a long way to go.

"Ensuring we have a strength-based duty system that is not protected from inflation is one of the most effective ways to reduce the harm and suffering caused by alcohol in Scotland.

"I would urge the First Minister to build on progress made with MUP, stick to his guns and not fall for the hyperbole of alcohol industry agitators.”

READ MORE: Coronation: The Proclaimers 'Removed from King's playlist'

Mr Yousaf's decision to lobby Mr Sunak on the duty comes as he moves to take a more pro-business approach than his predecessor.

Last week he junked a number of unpopular policies initiated under Nicola Sturgeon, including the possible ban on alcohol advertising.

Commenting ahead of meeting the Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf said: “Whisky has to pay its fair share of tax. Everyone, including distillers, agrees on that.

“The decision, however, to increase tax by more than 10%, at the same time as refusing to provide the energy-bill support the rest of the drinks industry receives, puts the industry - and Scotland - at a competitive disadvantage.

“That means less investment and puts jobs at risk here in Scotland. That is simply unacceptable.

“What’s more, this is a direct breach of the explicit pledge the Prime Minister was elected on as an MP in 2019. The Conservative manifesto was clear that they would review duty to help support the Scotch whisky industry."