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Scotland expects the minimum alcohol price to rise by 30%

The minimum price for alcoholic drinks in Scotland is expected to rise by 30% as a result of measures to control alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions.

Ministers in Edinburgh are expected to confirm that the minimum price for alcohol will rise from 50p to 65p from early May, six years after Scotland became the first part of Britain to introduce the policy.

Public Health Scotland said last year that minimum prices were “associated” with a 13.5% drop in the number of deaths entirely attributable to alcohol, compared to the expected death rate if minimum prices had not been in place.

Yet Scotland has seen a 25% increase in alcohol-related deaths in the past three years, while the number of people using alcohol treatment services has fallen by 40% in the past decade, increasing pressure on ministers.

A 65 cent rate will be widely welcomed by health campaigners, who have pushed for an increase in the minimum price, partly to keep pace with inflation and ensure it continues to suppress cheap alcohol sales.

The minimum price of a standard bottle of whiskey in Scotland will increase from £14 to £18.20, vodka to £16.90 and a four-pack of basic lager to £4.58.

Former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and now economics spokesman Willie Rennie, who has long defended the measure, said he was pleased ministers had listened.

“More than 20 people die every week in Scotland due to alcohol abuse, so we must take steps to stop alcohol destroying lives and communities,” he said. “That’s before you even understand the strain it puts on our health care and justice systems.”

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, meanwhile, plans to call this week for minimum prices to be scrapped entirely, arguing this is an ineffective or unfair way to combat alcohol abuse, and unjustified during a crisis in the cost of livelihood.

David Richardson, director of consumer affairs, said: “Targeted measures have a significantly greater impact without punishing the vast majority who drink responsibly.”

Scottish Labor supports the policy but has called for an additional alcohol levy on retailers to tax the unearned profits retailers make from minimum prices, with proceeds passed directly to the NHS and efforts to tackle addiction.

Research by the Fraser van Allander Institute for Alcohol Focus Scotland, published on Monday, estimates that retailers make around £30 million a year in extra profits because they pocket the difference between the minimum price and the wholesale cost of the drink.

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It estimated that a levy could raise £57 million a year if an overseas rates surcharge of 13p were imposed. It would be similar to a public health surcharge Scotland levied on supermarkets between 2012 and 2015, which raised £95m.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government has recognized the increasing number of alcohol-related deaths as a public health emergency, but tackling this problem requires appropriate funding.”

Minimum prices were first proposed by the Scottish National Party in 2008 to combat rising alcohol-related deaths and binge drinking in Scotland, a move that has since been mirrored by the Welsh government. Similar plans by the British government for England have stalled and are no longer being considered.

The Scottish policy was challenged in court by the Scotch Whiskey Association, but in 2017 the UK Supreme Court ruled that it was “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” and legal under EU law for health reasons.