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Scotland gets all-clear for minimum alcohol prices

The Scotch whisky industry is worth 4bn to Scotland

Scotland is set to become the first country in the world to impose a minimum price for alcohol in a bid to improve public health.

Measures proposed as part of the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act, first voted for by Scottish MPs in May 2012, can finally be implemented after years of legal challenges and appeals by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Seven Supreme Court judges voted unanimously on Wednesday to back the unprecedented legislation, which will impose a minimum price on alcohol in Scotland of 50p per unit. It means that a 70cl bottle of whisky cannot be sold for less than £14.

For years Scottish ministers have attempted to hike alcohol prices in a bid to tackle a perceived binge-drinking problem, but the SWA had slammed the proposal as "ineffective and illegal" and took its battle against the measures to court.

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Alcohol prices in Scotland are set for an increase

Its initial failure in May 2013 led to an appeal, with the case referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Court of Session, before the SWA was given the go-ahead to take it to the Supreme Court in July.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish government's proposal "is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim" and fully complies with EU law.

Once the measures are imposed, a 70cl bottle of 37.5% vodka will not go for less than £13.13 and a 75cl bottle of 12.5% wine cannot be sold for less than £4.69. Four 440ml cans of 9% lager will now cost a minimum of £7.92.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who first pitched a minimum price of 45p per unit in September 2010, said she was "absolutely delighted" with the court's decision.

Absolutely delighted that minimum pricing has been upheld by the Supreme Court. This has been a long road – and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics – but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health.

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) 15 November 2017

The makers of Tennent's Lager and Magners Cider, C&C Group, have also backed the measures.

"It is the right move to make, a progressive step forward in tackling the problems of alcohol misuse in Scotland, and we congratulate the Scottish government on its perseverance," a spokesperson said.

Alcohol Focus Scotland says that in the first year alone, minimum pricing could prevent 60 alcohol-related deaths, 1,600 hospital admissions and 3,500 crimes.

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