An NHS Health Scotland report has revealed that Scottish adults consume 23% more alcohol than their English and Welsh counterparts, with sales in alcohol more than twice what they were in the mid-1990s and up 2% on 2009 figures.
The report, Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy: An update of alcohol sales and price band analyses, shows that on average 2.2 more litres of pure alcohol were sold in Scotland to people aged 16 and over than in England last year. The amount of vodka sold in off-licences was almost two-and-a-half times higher.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, who is preparing an alcohol minimum pricing bill, which is to be revealed by the First Minister when the Scottish Parliament reconvenes, described the figures as ‘shocking’, saying: “This situation must be tackled head on. The impact of excessive consumption is estimated to cost Scots £3.56bn each year. That's £900 for every adult.”
The report also revealed a massive shift over the past decade in how people buy and consume alcohol. It shows a 28% decrease in alcohol sales in pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels between 1994 and 2010, and a rise of 52% in off-sales. It is now estimated that two-thirds of alcohol sales are made in supermarkets, grocers and other off-sales outlets, which have faced criticism from the Government and campaigners over cheap drink promotions.
Ms Sturgeon said: “For too long Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol has gone unaddressed.
“These figures, alongside the 3% increase in alcohol-related deaths reported earlier this month, make it clear to me that further action is needed and evidence shows us that minimum pricing is the most efficient and effective way of reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms.”
Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said she looked forward to debating the Government’s proposals but added: “Given alcohol prices are broadly similar across the UK, the difference in consumption levels cannot be explained away solely by price.”
The report comes in the wake of one by The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommending that safe limits for alcohol consumption by older people should be drastically cut. The report said that people over 65 should drink a maximum of only 1.5 units of alcohol a day - the equivalent of just over about half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine – because they are less able to process alcohol and the drink might also interact with medication they may be taking for other ailments.
It warned that current advice - 14 units of alcohol for women and 21 for men each week - is based on young adults and that excessive drinking in older age is both widespread and preventable.