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Whisky industry to challenge alcohol pricing law

19 July 2012

Legal challenges are to be taken against the Scottish Government’s minimum alcohol pricing legislation, the Scotch Whisky Association confirmed today.

The decision, which had been expected, will involve the SWA taking a complaint to the European Commission and bringing legal action through the Scottish courts. It will be joined by other UK and European Union wine, beer and spirits organisations and companies.

In its complaint to the Commission, the SWA argues that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol breaches EU trade rules and will artificially distort trade in the alcoholic drinks market, contrary to EU law.

It is also concerned that other countries are likely to adopt similar measures and use a “protection of health” justification to target imported products such as whisky, costing the Scotch Whisky industry up to £500m in exports.

In the Court of Session the SWA intends to apply for judicial review of the legislation on the grounds that the law on minimum pricing is in breach of the UK’s EU Treaty obligations and contrary to the terms of the Scotland Act 1998. The European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) and Comité Vins (CEEV), the European wine body, are joining in this action.

The SWA believes that as well as conflicting with EU law, the policy will be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, penalise responsible drinkers and be damaging to the Scotch whisky industry. It points to Scottish Government figures showing that 73% of alcohol sold in the “off trade” will have to go up in price, and recent statistics that alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm have been falling.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We agree that Scotland must address the harmful use of alcohol, but policy needs to be targeted on the problem."

He added: “Moderate drinkers are being forced to pay for an untargeted, misguided and illegal policy.”

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