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Scottish alcohol harm reduction strategy targets advertising

Restrictions on alcohol advertising and marketing, encouraging health information on product labels and reviewing the alcohol minimum unit price (MUP) have been proposed by the Scottish government.22 Nov 2018

The Scottish government has published an updated alcohol strategy, aimed at "preventing harm" and with a particular focus on protecting children and young people. The latest figures show that abuse of alcohol costs Scotland £3.6 billion each year, with almost 700 people hospitalised because of their drinking every week.

Licensing law expert Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that there were "no real surprises" in the document, but noted that there was "no reference to more funds for Police Scotland to enforce the rules we do have".

"The influence of the health lobby is paramount to the extent that operators will be excluded from areas where they might previously have had influence," she said. "Of course, there will have to be consultation and more legislation, but I anticipate that the proposed advertising and marketing ban, in particular, will gain traction, as it has in relation to gambling."

The Scottish government published its last alcohol strategy in 2009. Since then, it has spent over £746m on addressing higher-risk alcohol and problematic drug use; banned multi-buy discounts and "irresponsible" promotions; reduced the drink-driving limit; and supported a nationwide alcohol intervention programme. In May, it introduced the world's first MUP, set at 50p per unit of alcohol, after a legal challenge to the policy was dismissed by the UK Supreme Court.

The Scottish government has committed to a review of MUP once it has been in force for five years, while the relevant legislation contains a 'sunset' provision which means that it will expire after six years unless renewed. According to the new strategy, the government now intends to review the current MUP after 1 May 2020, when it will have been in operation for two full years, noting that "many wished to see a higher initial unit price".

The government intends to "consult and engage" on potential restrictions on alcohol marketing, aimed at "protecting children and young people". These could potentially include restrictions on online marketing and promoting alcohol-free events at colleges, universities and festivals. The Scottish government is keen to restrict broadcast alcohol-related advertising in cinemas and to after the 9pm television watershed, although the powers to do so are reserved to the UK parliament.

Alcohol producers will be encouraged to update on-pack product labels and packaging to include the revised lower limit guidelines published by the UK's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), as well as Scotland-specific advice about not drinking during pregnancy. The Scottish government will legislate to make product labelling requirements mandatory should producers not comply with a voluntary UK-wide deadline of September 2019.

The Scottish government also intends to research the impact of the "growing market" of online and telephone alcohol sales; to update the statutory guidance for licensing boards to reflect recent legislative changes; and to "keep the licensing system under review to ensure it can deliver for public health".