Scottish government proposes limit on alcohol sales

Shona Robison

Proposals to introduce a national target for reducing Scotland’s drinking levels would see pubs and supermarkets restricted in the amount of alcohol they sell.

Ministers have outlined a plan to create a nationwide target as part of the Scottish government’s campaign to reduce alcohol intake across Scotland.

The plan would require all businesses, large global supermarkets to small corner shops, to declare the volume of alcohol that they sell, in an attempt to establish the quantities of alcohol being purchased, in what areas and by what kind of people.

Chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Alison Douglas, has suggested shops, bars and restaurants should be required to provide information on the amount of alcohol they are selling. At the moment, licensing boards are making decisions based on the number of premises and their capacity, not volume of alcohol sold. Having this information would, she believes, would enable licensing boards to optimise their polices in order to prevent alcohol-related harm.

However, this approach has come under fire with numerous experts disagreeing with the suggestions. One leading expert described the proposals as “junk science”, adding that the figures outlining the volume of alcohol purchased does not show how it has been consumed.

Figures released showed that on average each adult in Scotland bought around 10.8 litres of pure alcohol – the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka.

The government proposals fall in line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest aim to reduce global alcohol consumption by 10 per cent by 2025.

Health Minister Shona Robison said: “We remain determined that Scotland plays its part in helping the WHO achieve its global reduction of 10 per cent in alcohol harm. The fresh of the Strategy is likely to consider how Scotland plays its part in targeting and reducing harmful levels of consumption in Scotland.”

Dr Peter Rice, chairman of Scottish Health Action of Alcohol Problems said: “We’d like to see legally binding mechanisms where licensing boards had access to the relevant information about patterns and volumes of sales but have an open mind in what that would require.

“The proxy measures we have about sales such as shelf space are inadequate and we need to move beyond a headcount of premises. Without sales data licensing boards is hampered in what it can meaningfully do to protect public health.”

Jack Cummins, leading liquor lawyer and a former adviser to the government on alcohol safety regulations said that the idea of using predicted sales information to make the decision on licensing was “fundamentally flawed”.

He added: “They’ll reveal nothing about the whereabouts of the purchasers nor could they even be a step towards assessing alcohol consumption patterns.”