Campaigners have questioned if Humza Yousaf is in the “pocket of the alcohol industry” after a consultation on curbing advertising was unexpectedly tabled.

More than 100 families and friends affected by a loved one’s drinking have signed a letter urging the First Minister to not backtrack on a longstanding pledge to tackle alcohol marketing.

Mr Yousaf announced that he told officials to take proposals “back to the drawing board” during a policy statement in Holyrood on April 18.

Charity Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD) was “shocked” by the announcement and felt “left in the dark” over the development after participating in the consultation.

Chief executive Justina Murray told The Herald: “Families are already powerless and excluded and it just seems to be offensive to them to then yet again have their voice taken away.

“They don’t have that power, wealth or influence of the alcohol industry.”

READ MORE: Lack of action on alcohol deaths 'could set Scotland back 30 years', warn campaigners

HeraldScotland: Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, helped coordinate the letter to Humza YousafJustina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, helped coordinate the letter to Humza Yousaf (Image: Colin Mearns)

It means further delay despite four and half years passing since the Scottish Government first committed to looking at alcohol marketing in November 2018.

 The long-awaited consultation was not started until November of last year and closed just a month before Mr Yousaf announced “a fresh look at this issue” at the matter.

During this time, more than 4,500 people have died directly through alcohol use, the letter to Mr Yousaf emphasises.

It reads: “They include our family members, our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones.

“How many more people will die, how many more lives shattered, how many more families destroyed before you hear our voice?”

There were 1,245 deaths caused directly by alcohol consumption in 2021 alone - the highest number since 2008.

Campaigners and charities, including SFAD, were also told nothing of what will happen to the consultation they participated in.

“I was really shocked, and I was also surprised we hadn’t heard directly,” Ms Murray said.

“We participated in the consultation so you would think if there was any follow-up to that that they would contact the people who took part.

“The first we heard of it was when another organisation shared the speech with us.

“We just felt in the moment - are you really throwing families under the bus here in the rush to improve your relationship with businesses?”

The letter that was delivered to the First Minister on Tuesday was signed by 137 family members and friends who live every day with the impact of alcohol use – including through active alcohol use and the loss of loved ones.

It emphasised that alcohol marketing frequently aims to encourage over-consumption, with industry profits relying on people drinking too much, too often.

The signatories stated: “However we also have a voice, and we need to be heard. We do not have the power or influence of the alcohol industry; we do not have an army of lobbyists or a multi-million pound PR machine to amplify our voices.

“Our daily lives are shaped by chaos, exhaustion, disappointment, grief and loss. We do not have the time, energy or resources to compete with the industry.

“But you have let our voice be drowned out by those with money, power and influence.”

READ MORE: Minimum unit pricing 'saved 156 lives a year'

SFAD claimed a consultation was not even needed as the World Health Organization (WHO) already recognised that one of the three key methods of reducing alcohol harm was to restrict marketing.

Scotland had already taken on another of these ‘best buys’ through the introduction of minimum unit pricing.

Ms Murray added that measures such as the minimum unit pricing made the country a “world leader in terms of alcohol policy” ahead of the dropped consultation.

A recent report also found that this policy had little economic impact on the country’s drinks industry despite major concerns raised by business voices.

She said: “Now it seems that the First Minister has gone into the pocket of the alcohol industry.

“It’s embarrassing actually for Scotland to be in that position now.”

She added: “I would take with a pinch of salt all the bleating from the industry, we really need to push family voices to the fore.”

During the consultation, the-then minister for public health Maree Todd “made a commitment” to Ms Murray that families’ voices would carry as “as much weight” as the industry.

The chief executive called on the First Minister to personally meet with family members and ensure they have a platform.

She said: “He has been in government since 2018 when the alcohol framework was signed off.

“Something has clearly happened with this change to him becoming First Minister where business is suddenly taking priority over people and that can never be a good thing for a country.”

Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham said: “My deepest sympathy goes to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through alcohol.

“I had the chance to hear first-hand experiences from members of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs last weekend and the First Minister will shortly meet with a range of public health organisations to discuss alcohol policy.

“We’re determined to do all we can to reduce alcohol-related harm – that’s why we have introduced and champion initiatives such as our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP). Recent research estimated it has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record, saved hundreds of lives and is having an effect in our most deprived areas.

“All of us want to reduce the harm, particularly to young people - without undermining Scotland’s world class drinks industry or tourism sector.”

The open letter is still open for further signatures HERE.