Scottish Government Ministers are considering hiking the minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol to 65p in a bid to curb alcohol-related deaths.

A new consultation paper published by the government says the 30 per cent increase in the price per unit "strikes a reasonable balance between public health benefits against the effects of any intervention in the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers."

However, the Scottish Conservatives said the hike "would only hit responsible drinkers during a cost-of-living crisis."

Under the 65p MUP, a 700ml bottle of Scotch whisky would cost a minimum of £18.20, while a bottle of vodka or gin would have a minimum price of £17.07.

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A pack of four 440ml cans of cider would cost at least £5.15, while a pack of four beer cans of the same size would cost at least £5.72.

MUP was first implemented on 1 May 2018, with a minimum price of alcohol set at 50 pence per unit.

The ambition was to try and curb consumption by all Scots, and in particular, “among those who drink at hazardous and harmful levels.”

A recent evaluation by Public Health Scotland found that MUP prevented hundreds of deaths and hospital admissions.

Though there was "limited evidence" that it reduced consumption among the heaviest drinkers.

There were 1,276 alcohol-specific deaths registered in Scotland in 2022, an increase of 2% on 2021.

The launch of the nine week consultation comes as a new report from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG), based at Sheffield University, said MUP would have to be 61 pence per unit now instead of the current 50 pence just to keep pace with the rise in prices since the policy was implemented.

The legislation, which took effect in May 2018, is subject to a 'sunset clause' which means it will automatically elapse from May 2024 unless MSPs pass new laws to extend it.

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Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham said the recent increase in alcohol-specific deaths highlighted the need “for more to be done to tackle alcohol-related harm.”

She added: “Our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing policy is one of the measures we know can make a difference.

“Recent research estimated it has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions each year - and also contributed to reducing health inequalities.

“It is one of a range of measures we have in place across prevention and treatment services to reduce alcohol harm.

“We believe the proposals set out in this consultation strike a reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and subsequent impact on consumers, but we want to hear from all sides and urge everyone to take the time to respond.”

There was support for the hike in the price per unit from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The party's communities spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said: “If MUP doesn’t move with inflation then the ambition of the policy is eroded.

“More than 20 people a week are dying in Scotland due to alcohol misuse. This is shocking and preventable, so we need to take steps to stop alcohol wrecking lives and communities.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “The launching of a second consultation shows even SNP ministers have concerns over any significant changes to their flagship minimum unit pricing policy.

“Increasing it to 65p per unit would only hit responsible drinkers during a cost-of-living crisis.

“Alcohol deaths are at their highest level since 2008 on the SNP’s watch and it is clear their blanket approach to tackling this crisis is simply not working, or supporting those who most need help with alcohol addiction.

“Ministers had to amend a press release boasting of its success and were criticised for cherry-picking from one particular study to try and suit their narrative.

“If SNP ministers are serious about reducing the level of alcohol deaths, then they should finally give their backing to the Right to Recovery Bill. That has been backed by frontline experts and would guarantee people access to treatment.”

Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), welcomed the potential hike.

He said: “Countries around the world will be watching Scotland so I hope, as does everyone who works in the field of alcohol harm reduction, that our parliamentarians act on the evidence and keep MUP on our statute books and uprate it to 65p to restore its impact and save lives.”

A spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “Alcohol misuse is complex but is a challenge that must be addressed.

“The Scotch whisky industry is committed to working in partnership with the Scottish Government to achieve that shared goal, including through the SWA’s ‘Made to be Measured’ campaign.

“An increase of the minimum unit price of alcohol in Scotland from 50p to 65p would push up the minimum price of Scotch whisky from £14 to £18.20 – a significant increase of 30% that would impact consumers across Scotland, the vast majority of whom drink responsibly.

“We will analyse the consultation in detail and respond in due course.”