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Minimum unit pricing battle will be decided at EU level

The case to implement a minimum unit price of alcohol in Scotland is to be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, it was announced today.

The Inner House of the Court of Session delivered its opinion today to both parties.

Health Secretary Alex Neil welcomed the referral from the courts and stressed that it was right this “precedent-setting case” was considered by the European Court of Justice, the highest authority on EU law.

He said: “The Scottish Government has always believed that minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do and will save lives. Scotland has a difficult relationship with alcohol and we need to urgently take action to tackle this problem that puts a huge burden on our society.

“The evidence shows that minimum unit pricing is an effective way to tackle alcohol-related harm. This is because it targets heavy drinkers in particular as they tend to drink the cheap, high strength alcohol that will be most affected by the policy.

“That is why I welcome the referral to European Court of Justice. Scotland is leading the way in Europe. We are confident of our case and look forward to presenting it in the European Court of Justice.

“While it is regrettable that this means we will not be able to implement minimum unit pricing sooner, we will continue our on-going and productive dialogue with EU officials. In fact, I am in Brussels today to discuss the increasing interest among other European Union members, including Ireland and Estonia, in bringing forward a minimum unit pricing policy.”

In response to today’s judgement from the Court of Session that minimum unit pricing is to be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:
 
"If the appeal judges feel that clarification is needed on technical matters then we can only hope that this process does not drag on. Every week that minimum pricing is delayed, another twenty Scots lose their lives because of alcohol. It is frustrating to see a policy that has been agreed through the democratic process being held up by big business, who care more about protecting profits than the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland."
 
Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said:
 
"A minimum unit price of 50p will get rid of the ultra-cheap alcohol which is blighting the lives of too many people, families and communities across Scotland. We have had detailed consideration of this measure over an extended period. Minimum pricing should have been implemented over a year ago and further delay is bad for Scotland’s health and wellbeing. Scotland has led the way in Europe, with interest in minimum unit pricing growing daily. Countries including Wales, Ireland, Poland and Estonia are all keen to see the results of this important measure which we believe will save many lives."