Scottish Government proposals to tackle alcohol misuse will involve the introduction of a minimum pricing strategy and a restriction of off-trade sales to over-21s.

The new proposals, announced today (17 June), will also see the end of some cheap drink promotions and plans to make some retailers help pay the consequences of alcohol misuse.

Introducing the consultation document, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP, said:
"People across all sections of society, of all ages, are drinking ever greater quantities of stronger alcoholic drinks. It should come as no surprise that alcohol-related health problems have risen hand-in-hand with this increased consumption.

"We believe that by raising the age for off-sales purchase of alcohol to 21, together with better enforcement, we will reduce excessive consumption among young people.

"Setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol will mean price better reflects the strength of alcoholic drinks. This will end the heavy discounting which allows strong drink to be sold cheaper than bottled water."

Anti-alcohol lobbyists point to the fact that misuse continues to act as a brake on Scotland's social and economic growth, costing the country an estimated £2.25bn each year, with alcohol-related deaths almost doubling in the last ten years.

Over 40,000 people each year in Scotland are hospitalised with an alcohol related illness; and the country now has one of the fastest growing chronic liver disease and cirrhosis rates in the world.

However, the new proposals have received opposition from the Tories and Lib Dems who have attacked the age rise for off-licence sales. The Conservatives said that such schemes "would not work" and the Lib Dems said it was "not right to stigmatise under-21s."

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) also raised concerns that certain proposals "risk undermining Scotch Whisky in its home market."

Whilst commending government support for all alcohol to be taxed on the same basis according to alcohol content, the SWA said that the discussion paper "had failed to answer the exam question" on any future minimum pricing scheme by not including a competition law assessment of proposals leading to politicians interfering in the commercial market.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "I believe these proposals will help us build on the changes brought in by the Licensing Act, such as ending happy hours in pubs and clubs and bringing in separate display areas for alcohol. They can kick-start the long term cultural shift in our society that we need."