In Drinks – Alcoholic by Clyde Mooney

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Scotland is set to become the first country to introduce a ‘Minimum Unit Price’ (MUP) on all booze, currently being considered in Australia, in an attempt to curb irresponsible drinking and public health detriment.

Authorities in Scotland have now cleared legal hurdles slowing progress of the legislation, first mooted in 2012, paving the way for the MUP to become law.

The scheme proposes a ‘floor’ price of 50p (AU$0.87) on a standard drink of any beverage.

The proposal was initially red flagged by the European Court of Justice on the basis it was in breach of EU laws, but this was overturned in the Court of Sessions. The Scotch Whisky Association then launched an appeal in the UK Supreme Court, but recently this was similarly ruled down.

“The 2012 Act does not breach EU law,” stated the Supreme Court’s Lord Mance.

“Minimum pricing is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

“A critical issue is, as [Court of Session judge] Lord Ordinary indicated, whether taxation would achieve the same objectives as minimum pricing.”

Mance went on to remark that taxation would impose an “unintended and unacceptable burden” on drinkers who weren’t the target of the legislation’s health mandate, as they do not represent a burden on society. The aim of the law is to affect consumers abusing cheap alcohol.

By the same token, many beverages will be unaffected by the MUP, and few if any drinks would become more expensive in venues.

In Australia, both the Northern Territory and Western Australia governments are considering a similar approach, also in the name of targeting problem drinkers gorging themselves on cheap plonk.

A minimum price of $1.50 or $1 is being considered here, on wine, beer and spirits.

The floor price system would be levelled at takeaway booze, although licensed venues are unlikely to ever be selling a standard drink of anything for less than the base price anyway.

It could mean an end to $2 bottles of wine and the wine industry’s history of dumping surplus stock and produce onto the market via discount labels. It would also likely affect many of the white labels produced and sold in bulk by the supermarket giants.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook has requested the assistance of the Mental Health Commission and the Department of Health to investigate implementation of such a scheme.

Cook proposes a minimum floor price is not about collecting more tax, but about implementing a deterrent to people consuming high-volume, low-cost forms of alcohol.