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Ground-breaking minimum pricing becomes law in Scotland

Prices of some of the highest strength lagers, ciders and spirits are set to increase in Scotland when new minimum pricing legislation comes into effect next week.

From 1 May, anyone with a licence to sell alcohol won’t be allowed to sell it cheaper than 50p per unit, meaning a can of lager or cider containing two units of alcohol will have to cost at least £1.

The minimum unit price for alcohol applies to both retailers, such as newsagents and supermarkets, and licensed operators that sell alcohol for drinking on the premises. In reality, however, the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland has said the price of drinks in pubs and restaurants is unlikely to change under minimum pricing as they already cost more than 50p per unit.

The Scottish government has justified the new law on the grounds that the alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are required to tackle it. Alcohol is now 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980, and in Scotland it is possible to exceed the new lower risk guidelines for alcohol consumption of 14 units per week by spending less than £2.50.

The new law has faced opposition from sections of the alcohol industry which has significantly delayed its implementation. The Scotch Whisky Association has argued that minimum pricing is illegal, will be ineffective in tackling misuse and will damage the Scotch Whisky industry.

However, in November last year, the UK Supreme Court unanimously dismissed an appeal against its introduction ruling that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 does not breach EU law, and that minimum pricing is appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate.