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A new report published by Scotland’s Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health reveals poor Scots are six more times more likely to die from alcoholism compared to their wealthier counterparts.
The report reveals people living in Scotland's poorest regions have over twice the number of shops selling tobacco and alcohol compared to Scotland's richest regions.
The increased number of shops selling alcohol in these poorer regions has had a devastating impact on people's health. Prices of alcohol have been driven down in these areas due to increased competition for drinkers' business.
Scotland's ongoing problem with alcohol-related deaths was highlighted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the recent Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Edinburgh. Sturgeon said: "[Scotland is] unusual, certainly among Western European countries, in the severity and the extent of that [alcohol] problem. Alcohol consumption in Scotland is almost one-fifth higher than it is in England and Wales. Our rates of liver disease and cirrhosis are the highest in Western Europe."
"These consequences affect some sections of the population far more severely than others. We know that people in the most deprived parts of our country are six times more likely to die from alcohol misuse than those who live in the most affluent parts of the country."
Dr Niamh Shortt, the author of the above study, urges the Scottish Government to stand up against the powerful alcohol industry who profits from the situation. She said: "The argument we hear most often is that our bodies are our own and we should be free to do what we want with them. Even if this means harm. Such arguments are misdirected when we consider the powers held by Big Business, such as Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol, who hold the balance of power and capital."
"There is evidence from the States to show that the tobacco industry has targeted inner city, low-income areas with heavy marketing."
Co-author of the study, Professor Richard Mitchell, said: "If you look at responses from the industry over the last few days they say, ‘We just go where the market is,’ which of course is a bare-faced lie—it is their business to create the market. They try to rubbish any science that comes out which kind of argues against their industry. They hide behind ultra-libertarian arguments. They’re very well resourced and they’re very clever. But ultimately what they’re trying to do is make money."
The Scotch Whisky Association's Rosemary Gallagher defended the alcohol industry by saying: "The long-term decline of alcohol-related deaths suggests measures currently in place tackle misuse are working. But we agree more can be done and we want to see effective and targeted measures in place to combat misuse."
Currently, the Scotch Whisky Association pays out £100,000 per annum to charities who set up campaigns to tackle alcoholism and alcohol abuse. This includes the provision of alcohol addiction treatment.
However, authors of the study point out this investment is a drop in the ocean compared to the damage these alcohol producers inflict on deprived areas. The authors of the study say more needs to be done to reduce the number of shops selling alcohol and tobacco in these deprived areas. Such changes would undoubtedly need to emanate via legislation as it is doubtful alcohol companies will implement these changes themselves.
Concluding, Dr. Shortt said: "Around 96% of applications for alcohol licenses in Scotland are granted. We need to approve fewer and we need to be brave and use the population's health as a reason not to approve applications."
In 2012, the Scottish Government tried to impose minimum unit pricing. However, the alcohol industry thought back by taking the Scottish Government to the European Court of Justice. Legal proceedings are ongoing and the policy has been shelved for the time being.
The Scotch Whiskey Association said: "Minimum pricing is a regressive policy that will hit responsible drinkers and, in particular, those on lower incomes at a time when household budgets are under extreme pressure."
The policy of minimum unit pricing also met widespread public resentment throughout Scotland.