Scotland clamps down on costly booze culture

Mon Mar 2, 2009 11:24am EST
 
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The Scottish government launched radical plans to tackle alcohol abuse on Monday, including setting a minimum price per unit to stop drinks being sold for "pocket money prices."

The government said it was acting to tackle the country's alcohol misuse epidemic which was costing the country 2.25 billion pounds ($3.17 billion) a year in health costs and days off work.

Announcing the plans, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said discount deals on strong drinks would also be banned in shops and supermarkets and advertising restricted.

"The scale of Scotland's alcohol misuse problem is shocking," Sturgeon said in a statement, citing 42,500 alcohol-related hospital discharges; 1,500 deaths per year; soaring rates of liver cirrhosis; the eighth highest consumption in the world and a 2.25 billion annual cost in extra services and lost productivity."

"Plummeting prices and aggressive promotion have led to a surge in consumption, causing and adding to health problems ranging from liver and heart diseases to diabetes, obesity, dementia and cancers," she said.

However, the minority government shied away from a controversial move to raise the minimum off-sales age to 21 nationwide.

"Our efforts to make communities in Scotland safer and stronger are being undermined by the tide of cheap drink and the 'drinking to get drunk' culture that's rife in Scotland," said MacAskill.

Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Harry Burns said the country had led the way on tackling smoking and will lead the way on alcohol misuse too.

"There is no doubt that alcohol misuse claims many hundreds of lives in Scotland every year -- twice as many today as 15 years ago -- and that it hits our poorest communities the hardest," he said.

(Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison)

 
<p>A customer poses for the camera with a pint of beer in a public house in Leeds, northern England October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis</p>