LONDON (CBS) – Scotland is serving up a world first to its drinkers: a minimum price for cheap, high strength alcohol. The more alcohol in a drink, the more expensive it will be.
The move is aimed at stopping excessive drinking. Lawmakers say it’s a small price to pay to save lives.
Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom.
“Without action that targets the affordability of alcohol, we won’t make the progress we need to see,” said Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
The idea is to target super-strength liquor that can attract drinkers prone to excess or addiction. Research suggests the policy could save around 400 lives in the first five years.
“When alcohol prices rise, deaths from alcohol fall. And when alcohol prices fall, deaths from alcohol rise. Every time,” says Dr. Alastair MacGilchrist, a liver specialist.
Retailers must charge at least 50 pence (about 70 cents) for each unit of alcohol. It’s caused the cost of some of the cheapest drinks – like strong cider, vodka, and whiskey – to triple.
“We have a lot of customers who are on a very, very low income and they don’t have a lot of money to spend,” says Linda Williams, who works at a liquor store. “And maybe on a Friday or Saturday, they want a bottle of cheap cider because that’s all they can afford, and I think it’s quite unfair on them.”
But recovering alcoholic Darren McGarvey says he’s glad the government stepped in. He knows firsthand how cheap booze can help fuel addiction.
“I know what culture does to contribute to these problems,” he said.
Wales is now considering similar alcohol pricing measures, while lawmakers in England say they will monitor how well the new policy works in Scotland.