Health campaigners are calling for the minimum pricing for alcohol to be increased – even though new figures showed Scotland is the only part of the UK where drink-related deaths have fallen over the last two decades.
Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas said that despite this “encouraging decrease” Scotland continued to have “considerably more” deaths linked to alcohol than in England and Wales.
Her call was backed by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, who stated there was a case for reviewing the current level of minimum unit pricing (MUP).
Ms Douglas insisted that it was was now time to review the current 50p a unit level for this, saying that the “impact of the current rate is likely to have been eroded due to inflation”.
The Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive added: “Deaths from alcohol remain far too high – and this is before we see the potential impact from Covid-19 and the associated restrictions. We must do more.”
Ms Lennon meanwhile tweeted: “Alcohol harm in Scotland remains a massive issue and is not getting the attention it needs. @AlcoholFocus is right to call for a review of the 50p minimum price. There’s a case for an increase.”
As well as looking at the level set for MUP, Ms Douglas said: “We need to look at other measures to help stem the tide of alcohol harm.
“Reducing how readily available alcohol is and how heavily it is marketed could help to improve the lives of thousands of Scots by preventing problems developing in the first place.”
Her comments came as new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there were 7,565 deaths from alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK in 2019 – equivalent to 11.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
In Scotland, there were 18.6 deaths per 100,000 from alcohol specific causes in 2019 – significantly higher than the rates of 10.9 per 100,000 and 11.8 per 100,000 recorded in England and Wales respectively.
However, the ONS data showed Scotland’s rate had fallen from 26.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2001 – making it the only country within the UK to experience a fall in the death rate.
In contrast, Northern Ireland saw its rate increase from 12.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2001 to 18.8 per 100,000 in 2019 – a level broadly equivalent to that in Scotland.
Ms Douglas said: “Despite an encouraging decrease, Scotland continues to experience considerably more alcohol-specific deaths than England and Wales.
“Each death represents a life cut tragically short and many more scarred by loss. Every alcohol-related death is preventable, and we should not be seeing these high numbers.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The 10% reduction in alcohol specific deaths in 2019 in Scotland is encouraging and is the lowest annual total since 2013.
“This notable reduction is in the first full year following the introduction of Scotland’s world leading minimum unit pricing policy.
“The number of alcohol specific deaths is a key indicator of the impact minimum unit pricing has on alcohol harms and these figures represent the positive steps the Scottish Government is taking to tackle alcohol-related harms.”
She said the government would “continue to keep the level of the MUP under review, and will consider all relevant emerging evidence, including the impact on health harms”.
The spokeswoman added: “Every death from alcohol is one too many and impacts on individuals’ families and communities across Scotland.
“This is why we are taking a range of additional actions to further tackle Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol through our Alcohol Framework, including consulting on potential restrictions on alcohol advertising and improving health information on product labels.”
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