Two thousand lives in Scotland could be saved by introducing the minimum pricing for alcohol system that has been blocked by Luxembourg judges, say Leave campaigners.
The Brexiteers said the European Court of Justice’s decision to “strike down” the SNP policy demonstrates that we “cannot effectively govern” while in the bloc.
Remain campaigners accused them of distorting the truth.
Tom Harris, director of Scottish Vote Leave, said the policy to charge a minimum of 50p per unit of alcohol was supported by health experts and the wider public as a “vital weapon in the fight against Scotland’s chronic and damaging drinking culture”.
“But it didn’t have the support of the European Court of Justice which decided, from its location in Luxembourg, that saving lives and improving the health of our citizens was not justification enough for falling foul of single market rules,” he said.
“We cannot effectively govern or implement democratically-approved policies while we are in the EU.
“Our politicians are fond of claiming they believe that the Scottish people are sovereign. Yet by supporting our EU membership, those same politicians have shown that to be nothing more than a meaningless election slogan.”
The campaign quoted research from Sheffield University, which estimated a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would lead to 2,036 fewer deaths in the first 20 years it coming into force.
Legislation to bring in a minimum price of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012.
But a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association saw the European Court of Justice rule that minimum pricing is “not justified where it is possible for health to be protected equally effectively by less restrictive tax measures”.
The matter was referred back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which is to decide whether an alternative tax measure could achieve the same effect on public health than minimum pricing, while being less restrictive of trade.
Professor Harry Burns, a former chief medical officer for Scotland who backs minimum pricing, said the Vote Leave claims are a “distortion of the truth”.
The Scotland Stronger in Europe campaigner said: “Far from ‘striking down’ minimum pricing, the European Court of Justice actually said that it is for Scotland’s own domestic courts to decide.
“The reality of the EU is that it has taken significant action to drive up standards of public health, including air and water quality.”