The Scottish drinks industry is up in arms over government plans to drastically restrict the availability of alcohol in a bid to cut misuse.
A government consultation paper is proposing minimum prices per unit of alcohol, upping the minimum age for buying alcohol in off-licences to 21, raising the minimum age of checkout staff to 18, bringing in ‘alcohol only’ checkouts and restricting advertising.
A law already passed and due to come into force in Scotland in September 2009 requires retailers to specify the precise location of the aisles in which alcohol will be sold. It will be illegal to sell alcohol outside these aisles.
While it is expected some of the proposals will not get through the consultation process, others certainly will. The government has indicated some proposals will be introduced rapidly, before September.
The UK Wine and Spirit Trade Association has condemned the proposals as ‘demonising’ alcohol, while stressing it supports the government’s motivation to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse.
‘We fundamentally disagree with the significant change to a “whole population approach”… This runs contrary to the current approach taken in the European Alcohol Strategy that the best way to tackle alcohol-related harm is to focus solutions on the groups of people who abuse alcohol.’
The WSTA adds that although the government stressed the aim was not to demonise alcohol, that would be the effect. ‘We believe this will only exacerbate Scotland’s problems.’
It roundly comdemns each of the proposals as ‘ludicrous’ and anomolous.
For example, raising the buying age to 21 would ‘result in the ludicrous situation where an 18/19/20 year old…could serve in the armed forces, vote, get married and have children’ but not be able to buy a drink to have at home – although they could drink in the pub.
Similar scorn is poured on plans to have alcohol-only checkouts in supermarkets, making shoppers queue twice, which would be catastrophic for the retail industry.
The proposals would not be confined to north of the border, Gavin Partington of the WSTA warns.
‘There is no doubt that politicians south of the border will be looking at the Scottish experience with a view to replicating it in England and Wales.’
The consultation paper is with interest groups at the moment. Partington said the proposals would be vigorously opposed by the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Beer and Pub Association.
Written by Adam Lechmere