Reducing harm caused by alcohol

Minimum pricing

The most effective way of reducing the harm caused by alcohol is to increase the price.

Minimum pricing benefits

What is minimum pricing?

A minimum price for alcohol sets the lowest price an alcoholic drink can be sold for. In Scotland, the minimum price per unit of alcohol has been set at 50p.

Which drinks will be affected?

Stronger drinks that contain more units of alcohol will have a higher minimum price than drinks that contain less alcohol. Drinks that will be affected include strong white cider, own brand vodka and gin, and super strength lager.

A bottle of wine containing 10 units of alcohol would have to be sold for at least £5, and a can of lager containing 2 units of alcohol would have to cost at least £1.

Unlike supermarkets and off-licences, most drinks sold in pubs, clubs and restaurants already cost more than 50p per unit so there will be no real difference under minimum pricing.

Minimum pricing is an effective policy because it targets the drinkers causing the most harm to themselves and society, whilst having almost no effect on moderate drinkers.

Why is minimum pricing needed?

Alcohol is much cheaper to buy now than it was in the past. In fact, it is 60% more affordable today compared with 30 years ago - particularly in supermarkets and other off-sales where we now buy most of our alcohol. This increased affordability has led to higher consumption and higher levels of alcohol-related health and social problems - find out more

What are the benefits of minimum pricing?

Getting rid of the cheapest, strongest alcohol will mean improved health, safer communities and lives saved.

Modelling by the University of Sheffield estimated that in the first year alone, introducing a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would mean:

  • 60 fewer deaths
  • 1,600 fewer hospital admissions
  • 3,500 fewer crimes

In Canada, where minimum pricing is in place, it has resulted in a reduction in the amount people drink, with fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and fewer deaths.

A seminar presenting the case for the implementation of minimum pricing took place in Brussels on 5 September 2014, as part of the European Public Health Alliance conference. Speakers included health experts, the Scottish Government and representatives from the alcohol industry who are supportive of the measure. Watch a short video from the event.

When will minimum pricing come into force in Scotland?

The Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 24 May 2012 but it has been delayed by the legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

The Court of Session refused the Scotch Whisky Association petition for judicial review in May 2013 and the matter was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In December 2015, the ECJ issued their judgement that the Scottish Government can use minimum pricing to reduce harm, as long as it can show that minimum pricing is more effective than taxation. 

The case continued at the Court of Session in Edinburgh during June and July 2016 and on 21 October 2016, the court ruled that minimum pricing is legal and can be implemented in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association announced their intention to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, further delaying the implementation of minimum pricing.

Summary of the legal process October 2016