Minimum pricing for alcohol must be brought in as a matter of urgency after judges backed the policy, doctors have said.
Judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh rejected an appeal against minimum unit pricing, which had been brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), saying the grounds submitted “were not well founded”.
While the SWA is considering whether to now take its legal challenge to the UK Supreme Court, doctors’ leaders and health campaigners have called on the organisation to respect the verdict.
Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: “Today’s verdict must mark an end to the delays and minimum unit pricing must now be implemented as a matter of urgency.
“Every year that has been lost to the alcohol industry’s delaying tactics has brought with it a human cost in lives lost and health damaged.
“The alcohol industry needs to accept today’s judgement and stop attempting to put their own agenda ahead of the public interest.”
Eric Carlin, director of the campaign group Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, called on the SWA to “respect the decision of the Scottish court and consider this matter closed”.
While the cost of cheaper drinks such as strong cider will rise as a result of minimum unit pricing (MUP), Mr Carlin stressed that “so-called ‘quality’ whisky brands” will be unaffected.
He said: “We welcome the ruling today and call on the Scottish Government to implement the legislation as a matter of urgency.
“The global alcohol industry’s actions in Scotland have delayed a measure that could have significantly reduced alcohol-related harm and saved thousands of lives over the last four years.”
Prof Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, described minimum pricing as “one of the most effective public health tools to reduce the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in our society”.
He added: “MUP can help reduce the mortality rates associated with alcohol by targeting those products that cause the most harm.
“In implementing this legislation, Scotland will be leading the way in its approach to alcohol, which we hope other countries will follow.
“We hope that its implementation can now move forward without any further delays or challenges.”
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “This is a great day for Scotland’s health. Minimum pricing is widely supported by doctors, social workers, children’s charities and many more who want to get rid of the cheap vodkas and super-strength ciders that cause so much damage.
“Scotland has been waiting more than four years to implement this policy, which will prevent thousands of hospital admissions and crimes, and save hundreds of lives.
“We hope that minimum pricing will now be put in place as quickly as possible so we can start seeing the benefits.”
Emily Robinson, the deputy chief executive of Alcohol Concern, urged the UK Government to follow Holyrood’s lead.
She said: “Today is an important landmark decision for minimum unit pricing and we welcome the news from the Scottish courts.
“The aim of MUP is to protect the young and the vulnerable heavy drinker, so it’s been troubling to see a powerful section of the alcohol industry using their huge resources to oppose this and put profits before people’s health.
“All the evidence shows that MUP will save thousands of lives, the economy millions and cut alcohol-related crime, so we look forward to its introduction and hope our Government will follow suit.”