Scotland has today introduced a minimum unit price for alcohol – the first country in the world to do so.
Retailers must now ensure a unit of alcohol is not priced below 50p, in a government bid to reduce the high number of alcohol-related deaths in the country each year.
It means a standard 750ml 13% bottle of wine cannot be sold for less than £4.88, a 700ml 40% bottle of whisky for £14 and two litres of 5% cider for £5.
The Scottish government has warned retailers there will be no period of grace and that if rules are broken licences could be removed.
Twenty-two people die from alcohol related illnesses in Scotland every single week – a problem which costs Scotland’s health system more than £3bn annually.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Sky News the new law should save lives.
“Over the first five years of this policy the estimate is that several hundred fewer deaths from alcohol will be recorded and we will reduce admissions to hospital,” she said.
“These are statistics, but every single one of these statistics is a human being, with a family, with friends, with a life and if we can save these lives this is a policy definitely worth pursuing.”
In total there were 7,327 alcohol specific deaths across the UK in 2016.
Scotland has the highest number of deaths for its population compared to any other part of the UK.
In the same year there were 30.9 male deaths related to alcohol for every 100,000 men in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland the rate is 22.2, while England and Wales combined is 14.6 – around half the rate of Scotland.
Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, said there are a number of factors behind the high number of alcohol related deaths in the country.
“We have a real problem with our relationship with alcohol in Scotland,” she told Sky News.
“Alcohol misuse causes 700 admissions to the NHS in Scotland and 22 deaths.
“This measure will reduce those deaths. Within the first year we will have 60 less deaths.
“Experts tell us the price of alcohol, the availability of alcohol and the attractiveness of alcohol are all what influence on people’s consumption.”
There are already plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing in Wales and Northern Ireland, while in England the Home Office says the policy will continue to remain under review “pending the impact of its implementation in Scotland”.
But Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Research UK, says there is enough evidence for the same rule to be introduced in England now.
He said: “We think there is enough evidence for the Government to bring it in in England, it’s being brought in in Wales, we know that the plan’s afoot in Northern Ireland and it’s already happening as we know in Scotland, so England looks like an outlier.”
But support for the policy is not unanimous.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) appealed against it, saying the plan conflicted with EU trade rules, something the Supreme Court disagreed with.
Scotch whisky accounts for about 20% of all UK food and drink exports, the SWA said.
A spokesman said: “The Scotch Whisky industry has worked cooperatively with the Scottish Government on the implementation of minimum unit pricing, which we hope will be smooth.
“In parallel, we continue to work in partnership with a range of stakeholders to promote responsible drinking and to tackle alcohol-related harm.
“We agree with the Scottish Government that there needs to be an objective, independent and robust assessment of the impact of minimum unit pricing. That should include assessing the impact on trade.”