Welcome to SHAAP’s (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) weekly media monitoring service.

21 July 2016


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This briefing aims to provide a ‘snap shot’ of latest news on alcohol and health policy. The inclusion of an article in the briefing should not imply that SHAAP approves or condones the content.

SHAAP provides a coordinated, coherent and authoritative medical and clinical voice on the need to reduce the impact of alcohol related harm on the health and wellbeing of the people in Scotland. SHAAP was set up by the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges, through their Scottish Intercollegiate Group (SIGA) and is governed by an Executive Committee made up of members of the Royal Colleges.

Court of Session considering decision on Scottish minimum alcohol price

Scotland’s highest civil court is currently considering its decision in the long-running challenge to the government’s planned 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol, after hearing evidence from officials and trade body the Scotch Whisky Assocation (SWA), which is challenging the policy.

If the Inner House of the Court of Session decides that less restrictive tax measures could have been used instead of minimum pricing, it will have to strike down the planned policy as contrary to EU law.

The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012. It prohibits the sale of alcohol below a minimum price, calculated on the basis of the drink’s alcoholic content. The Scottish ministers drafted regulations setting a minimum price per unit of 50p in 2013, although this has not yet been introduced due to the ongoing legal proceedings.

A decision by the court in favour of the SWA would be the second successful challenge to an act of the Scottish Parliament since its creation. If the court finds in favour of the Scottish Government and upholds the policy, the European Commission could potentially bring the UK before EU courts if it views the policy as a breach of EU law.

Licensing law expert Frances Ennis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that the case remained very important despite the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU.

“The UK remains an EU member state at present, and is still bound by the EU treaties,” she said.

“The case is based on an important EU treaty article concerning the free movement of goods. Since this article is crucial to the operation of the common market, it may continue to be relevant if the UK attempts to remain part of the common market as part of the ‘Brexit’ negotiations,” she said.

In December 2015, following a referral from the Court of Session, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that minimum unit pricing was incompatible with EU law “if less restrictive tax measures can be introduced”. It referred the case back to the Scottish court to rule on this final point.

The CJEU ruled that the planned policy was potentially in breach of EU law, as it was “liable to undermine competition by preventing some producers or importers from taking advantage of lower cost prices so as to offer more attractive retail selling prices”. Interference with EU law may be permitted on public health grounds provided that the policy is proportionate.

SWA argued in the Court of Session that the Scottish Government was required to produce objective and impartial evidence demonstrating that the intended health benefits of its policy could not be otherwise achieved through less restrictive means. The evidence that the government brought before the court was insufficient to meet these tests, meaning that minimum unit pricing should be declared illegal, according to Alex Neil QC arguing on behalf of SWA.

Neil further argued that the health protection benefits of minimum pricing could be achieved through a combination of other methods including increased excise duties, a sales tax on alcohol or prohibiting the sale of alcohol at zero profit. The court will not be able to substitute any of these measures for minimum unit pricing as part of its judgment, but could view them as less restrictive alternatives on the evidence available.

However, the Scottish Government has argued that these alternative measures would be inappropriate, potentially leading to more harmful drinking rather than less. In addition, excise duty increases would need to be very substantial to have an effect, which would be likely to distort trade. The government also asked the court to consider the obligation placed on it by the legislation to review the policy and its effects after six years, known as the ‘sunset clause’.

Source:, 19th July

Warning over child alcohol searches

Handing police new powers to stop and search children for alcohol "may have long-term negative effects", the Law Society for Scotland has said.

A Scottish government consultation on police powers to search children for alcohol closed on 15 July.

In its response to the consultation, the Law Society of Scotland said the searches could alienate young people.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said stop and search was a "valuable tool".

The consultation was carried out after an independent advisory group recommended that non-statutory, or consensual, shop and search should end when a new code of practice comes into force next year.

From that point on, the police will be able to search a person only where they have a specific legal power to do so.

But in their report, the advisory group highlighted a potential legislative gap once consensual search ends, as the police do not currently have a specific legal power to search children and young people for alcohol.

However, the group's members were unable to reach a view on whether a new search power was desirable or necessary, and recommended the Scottish government should carry out a public consultation.

'Risk of harm'

The consultation document published by the Scottish government stated that only 9.7% of searches of people under 18 resulted in alcohol being found between 1 June and 31 December last year.

The paper argued that "not having a search power could put children and young people at risk of harm", but also stated that: "A new search power would not give the police any new powers to take alcohol away from a young person."

In their response, the Law Society of Scotland said "we do not consider legislation would be necessary, or indeed desirable. "

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the society's Criminal Law Committee, said: "Giving the police new powers to stop and search young people for alcohol could alienate them and may have long term negative effects, both for Police Scotland and young people in general.

"There is a risk that a new power to search a child or young person for alcohol would generate a disproportionate negative perception of children, as evidence shows only a small number of searches actually result in the finding of alcohol."

'Thorough consultation'

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Stop and search can be a valuable tool in combating crime and has led to the seizures of dangerous weapons, drugs and stolen goods. However, clearly it is important to get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individual.

"The contents of the new Code of Practice have been put out to a full consultation to ensure they are informed by a wide range of views.

"No decision has been made on the power to search children for alcohol.

"As recommended by the independent advisory group a full and thorough consultation has been undertaken to inform the way forward and any future proposals will be subject to further scrutiny by parliament."

Source: BBC News, 18th July

Door open for health NGOs to rejoin EU alcohol forum

The European Commission is exploring ways to bring back health organisations to its alcohol policy forum, in light of recent reports suggesting a decrease in underage drinking across Europe.

According to a World Health Organisation report published on 15 March, the percentage of 11, 13 and 15-year-old children who consume alcohol at least once a week halved between 2002-2014.

This means “that more than 85% of underage European 15-year-olds do not drink at all”, according to the WHO.

The report also noted that the highest decline was marked in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain.

The European spirits industry welcomed the results of the survey, but admitted there was still work to do.

“The 2014 results are very encouraging,” said Paul Skehan, Director General of spiritsEurope, adding that the percentage of 15 year-olds reporting first consumption at the age of 13 or earlier declined by 32% between 2006 and 2014.

“Fighting underage drinking across Europe requires joint work among those who influence and shape minors’ attitudes, such as peers, parents and educators,” Skehan said.

Commission in dialogue with NGOs

In June 2015, twenty public health NGOs pulled out of the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF), a stakeholder platform aiming to develop strategies to fight alcohol abuse.

The NGOs, most of which receive EU funding, decided to abstain from the platform in protest against the European Commission’s refusal to submit a new alcohol strategy, which formally expired in 2012.

But the executive now hopes to bring NGOs back to the table.

A Commission spokesperson told EurActiv that the areas of work and the objectives identified in the EU alcohol strategy to support member states in fighting alcohol harm remained valid.

“The Commission continues supporting the prevention of alcohol abuse and addressing the harm it causes through a joint action and various projects under the Health Programme,” the EU official said, adding that the executive is considering how best to rekindle EU activities related to reducing alcohol-related harm.

“Since the NGOs chose to leave the Alcohol and Health Forum, reflection is also underway on how to best include stakeholders in such work,” the spokesperson said.

“We are in dialogue with the NGOs to examine how to continue cooperation and whether this can be done in a structured way,” the official continued, emphasising that the Commission had  an “open door policy” with all stakeholders engaged in action to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The EU official welcomed the general trend towards a decrease in adolescent alcohol use but underlined that the figures nevertheless deserved thorough analysis. Trends diverge in several member states and too many teenagers still abuse alcohol while consumption tends to increase substantially with age, the official remarked.

The UK case

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Center in the UK found a remarkable decrease in alcohol use among young people in Britain.

According to the survey, the proportion of young teenagers who have ever had an alcoholic drink has been in steady decline since 2003.

The survey found that 38% of 11-15-year-olds in England consumed alcohol in 2014, down from 61% in 2003. The drop in Scotland was similar.

The decline could be attributed to several reasons, ranging from better legal enforcement of minimum purchase ages via ID schemes to lower affordability due to tax hikes, according to the UK-based Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), which claims to be one of the few organisations that does not depend on funding from the government or the alcohol industry.

The IAS also said that demographic shifts played a significant role, meaning that there are more ethnic minorities, which are less likely to drink, and affect their peers.

“There is some evidence that minority students can influence their peers: non-Muslim children in schools with a high Muslim population are less likely to drink,” the survey reported.

Social media and drinking    

The IAS also highlighted internet access and social media as a contributing factor.

Social media offer a new set of activities that are “more entertaining and enjoyable than drinking” and were perceived as different modes of socialising, the report said.

However, greater internet usage may also lead to higher levels of consumption. According to the IAS, “Online, young people may be exposed to pro-drinking messages and pressure.”

Internet consumption of 12-13-year-olds increased by 24% to 17 hours a week between 2007 and 2013, according to Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK.

The European Commission recently proposed a reform of advertising rules on television and online, opening a new battlefield for health NGOs, advertisers and the alcohol industry.

Source: Eur Activ,18th July


Alison Douglas: Domestic drinking isn't harmless

DON’T let children bottle up fears around alcohol in the home, writes Alison Douglas

These days, far more drinking takes place in living rooms than pubs, with three-quarters of all alcohol in Scotland sold by supermarkets and off-licences. It’s not surprising given how cheaply alcohol is sold in shops – a bottle of wine can cost the same as one glass in the pub.

This shift to drinking at home also means a shift in where alcohol-related harm takes place. In pubs, staff are trained to monitor drinking and to deal with any problems to keep their customers safe. Standard measures also mean it’s easier to keep track of how much you are drinking.

Behind closed doors, it’s a different story. Police and paramedics say more and more of their calls now involve alcohol-related incidents and disturbances in people’s homes. Whether it’s parties getting out of hand, arguments turning into violence, illness, accidents or injuries, it’s our emergency services that are called upon to pick up the pieces. Ambulance crews regularly face the threat of violence when attending incidents where alcohol is involved and hundreds of homes are “red-flagged” – considered too dangerous for paramedics to enter without police back-up.

Rather than alcohol being kept for special occasions, it’s become normal to include it as part of the weekly shop and to keep the fridge stocked up. Alcohol has become so embedded in our society that there’s a perception that regular drinking is normal, risk-free and a good way to de-stress. Of course, none of these are true. Regularly drinking too much increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and mental health problems.

But what impact is this massive shift to drinking at home having on families, in particular, our children? At its most basic, children are more likely to be around alcohol and to witness drunkenness. We might not think children notice how much or how often we, as parents, are drinking but they do. Seeing how we drink is a big influence on our children’s future drinking habits; more so than what we say about alcohol.

Every child in Scotland has the right to grow up safe from alcohol-related harm. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 50,000 children – at least one child in every single primary school class – lives with a parent who has an alcohol problem.

While every family’s situation is different, children who live with someone who drinks too much say they feel scared, confused, stressed and angry when their parent is drinking. They are also at higher risk of experiencing neglect and domestic violence. They often suffer in silence as they don’t know where to get help or are too scared to speak to someone. Having access to specialist services that support families who need help the most is one of the best ways to improve children’s lives.

Alcohol Focus Scotland has developed creative and practical tools for professionals to help support children and families affected by alcohol.

These resources feature animal and child characters who tell stories about how a substance called alcohol affects routines and relationships. The characters encourage children to talk to a trusted adult about their worries and express their emotions rather than keep things bottled up. The message we want to get across to children is reassurance that they’re not alone and they should never feel they are to blame for their parent or carer’s drinking.

We have found that children instantly relate to the characters in our stories and recognise their own experiences.

The resources make a real difference to children’s lives, empowering them to talk about, understand and cope with what may be difficult circumstances in their family. Later this year we will be working with parents to develop a website that will offer support and advice for families worried about alcohol.

But there’s much more that can be done to prevent so many children and families being damaged by alcohol in the first place.

All the things that encourage us to drink – cheap prices, easily availability and constant promotions – need to be tackled to reduce consumption and harm.

One alcohol counsellor who regularly uses our resources with children says the best thing is being able to “help that wee person grow”. Let’s help all wee people in Scotland grow by changing our relationship with alcohol – 
both individually and as a country.

Source: The Scotsman,14th July

New alcohol licence applications in parts of Perth and Kinross could be blocked if it is found there is an overprovision of premises selling alcohol.

A two-month formal public consultation process by Perth and Kinross Licensing Board got underway this week to establish an accurate picture.

If overprovision is identified, this would presume the board against granting a licence for new premises selling alcohol or extension of capacity in existing premises.

Anyone applying for a new premises licence or an extension of capacity would have to show that there are exceptional or special reasons as to why their application should be granted.

Convener of Perth and Kinross Licensing Board, Councillor Henry Anderson said: “I would stress that no decision has yet been taken on overprovision or the potential revocation of premises licences not currently in use and I hope anyone wishing to make a submission as part of the consultation will do so.

“We have to carefully consider these issues in order for the board to formulate a position and put in place supplementary policy as appropriate that will apply for the life of the current Licensing Policy Statement, that is, up to November 3 2018. The wide-ranging public consultation process will enable us to do this in an effective way.”

The consultation has come about as each licensing board must, under the terms of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005,  include in its licensing policy a statement expressing the extent to which, if any, it considers there to be overprovision of either licensed premises generally or of premises of a specific nature anywhere within the area for which it has responsibility.

This should also take into account key objectives for alcohol licensing – preventing crime and disorder, securing public safety, preventing public nuisance, protecting and improving public health, and protecting children from harm.
Perth and Kinross Licensing Board agreed in May to take forward consultation in order to gather views from a range of people including members of the public.

The consultation will also consider whether premises licences not used for a specified period of time for the sale and consumption of alcohol should be revoked, and if this approach is adopted, how long that period should be.

Source: The Courier, 20th July


Strongbow launches 'Let's Own It' campaign

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