Scotland faces legal challenge over alcohol bill

Governments around the world are increasingly legislating against harmful substances but now Scotland is facing a legal challenge over its move to curb excessive alcohol consumption.

Australia's tobacco plain-packaging laws are being closely watched, with a number of countries considering going down the same path.

The Scottish government has passed a bill to introduce a minimum alcohol price per unit of alcohol of 50 pence, about 75 cents.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon says the government does not have concrete evidence that the move will work but she says it is worth trialling.

"Sometimes you have to be brave on public health policy and when you have a particular issue as a country then the imperative to be brave is even greater," she said.

The government is facing opposition from the drinks industry which is launching a legal challenge with the European Commission.

Irrespective of the challenge, the Scottish government says it is confident it will not be long before other countries follow suit.

Its plans are aimed specifically at significantly ramping up the price of cheap alcohol available in corner shops and supermarkets.

The move would target people like Kirsty Forsyth, a young Glasgow woman who drinks about three litres of cider a day.

She does not believe a price rise is the solution.

"I don't think it's right, because people with drink problems, how are they going to afford to drink if they're going to put the alcohol prices up?," she said.

"It's hard enough as it is.

It'll make it worse." The Scotch Whisky Association is leading the drinks industry in a legal challenge with the European Commission.

The association's Campbell Evans says the government's move is illegal.

"For 30 years, the European Court has said that minimum pricing is illegal in the European Union," he said.

"We think it will set a damaging health precedent that overrides trade rules, that will undermine Scotch whisky exports and therefore damage the wider Scottish economy." England and Wales are closely watching developments north of the border and also plan to introduce minimum pricing.

European trade law specialist James McLean says the fate of Scotland's minimum pricing legislation will also be closely watched elsewhere.

"What happens in Europe is going to set a precedent for the rest of the world because the European treaty provisions are echoed in the general agreement and trades and tariffs," he said.

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