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28/10/13 00:01

European stage for minimum pricing

Health Secretary Alex Neil leads talks on policy in Estonia.

Health Secretary Alex Neil will travel to Estonia next week, outlining the Scottish Government’s position on the minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

Mr Neil, invited by Mr Rõivas, the Estonian Minister of Social Affairs, will make the keynote speech at the Estonian Annual Alcohol Conference.

Estonia has a similar level of alcohol consumption to Scotland, and the rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in both countries have followed a comparable pattern for the last 20 years.

While in Estonia, Mr Neil will also visit a technology hub that provides the infrastructure for their public services, including health. Estonia has been ranked first place in Europe for accessibility and usage of eHealth services, and this provides the opportunity for Scotland to see if there are any potential lessons as we progress in this area.

Speaking at the alcohol conference, Mr Neil is expected to say:

“In Scotland we are clear that Minimum Pricing is the right thing to do, as part of a comprehensive set of measures to deal with our country’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

“There is a growing momentum and consensus across Europe to support our view. Last week Ireland announced its intention to follow Scotland’s lead and it is hugely encouraging that I have been invited to Estonia to show how we are pushing forward the case for minimum unit pricing.

“Levels of alcohol consumption are not just a problem for individual European countries – alcohol consumption in Europe is almost double the world average.

“The Scottish proposal is likely to become the precedent making case which will set out the law for the next generation, not only on the use of the price in relation to alcohol, but the use of price for any public health purpose.

“The interests of the health of every country are therefore engaged and I urge countries to support Scotland’s stance and join us in making public health measures much more prominent.”

Notes to editors

The World Health Organisation acknowledges that the price of alcohol has to be a key element to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol related harm.

Following our notification to the European Commission last year of our intention to introduce minimum unit pricing, we received an opinion from the Commission and we have subsequently responded.

In May this year, the Court of Session in Scotland passed the only judgement in law on minimum pricing, finding comprehensively in favour of the policy and recognising the overwhelming evidence that minimum unit pricing will reduce alcohol consumption, with a particular impact on hazardous and harmful drinkers who experience so much of the alcohol-related harm we see in Scotland.