Scotland Set to Go Forward with Minimum Unit Pricing

A Scottish gent drinks relatively low price alcoholOn November 15, 2017, the UK Supreme Court cleared the way for Scotland to institute a decisive strategy to control death and injury from alcohol—minimum unit pricing (MUP). By setting a floor for retail price of alcohol, MUP places high-ABV, low-price beverages in a higher price tier, creating a financial barrier to binge drinking. Although the policy had been passed in 2012, the Scotch Whiskey Association (an industry group backed by global alcohol giant Diageo) sued in both UK and European Union courts to keep it from going into effect. After the 2017 decision, the Association announced they would no longer be challenging it, marking a victory of public health advocates in Scotland and a promising precedent for legislators worldwide.


“This has been a long road—no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics—but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC.


Unlike strict price controls or excise taxes, Scotland’s minimum unit pricing sets only the shelf price, meaning the retailer keeps all profits above the prices set by manufacturers. While this does not qualify as a charge-for-harm strategy since no funds are recouped by the state, it was a key to the Supreme Court’s decision. The judges praised the policy’s ability to target “the groups most affected in a way that an increase in excise or VAT does not.”


Scotland is not the first country to implement MUP. Canada empowered its provincial governments to set a floor price for alcohol, a policy that seems to effective when used. A recent study demonstrated that a 10% increase in minimum price in Saskatchewan was associated with an 8% decrease in consumption and 9% decrease in alcohol-related hospitalizations. (By comparison, the province of Alberta opted not to institute MUP, and saw no change in consumption or hospitalization.)


Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison expects similar reductions. Speaking to the Guardian, she cited 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in 2016, a rise of 10% from the previous year. “These numbers are completely unacceptable. Behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community.” With MUP in place, Robison’s department predicts 392 fewer deaths and 8,254 hospital admissions tied to alcohol-related causes.


Moreover, young adults are especially sensitive to price, liable to binge drink, and susceptible to harm from injury, accident, and suicide. By setting a price threshold that affects the products specifically targeted at youth, MUP performs double duty as both harm reduction and prevention.


“This was a hard fought victory against an industry not afraid to throw its weight and money around,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, CEO/Executive Director of Alcohol Justice. “Other countries need to take this lesson—price is prevention and Big Alcohol can be beaten.”


The BBC report notes that David Cameron, at that time the Prime Minister of the UK, pushed for MUP in 2012. That effort wilted in the face pushback from Big Alcohol, but after Scotland’s success, the other constituent countries of the UK are expected to approach similar legislation individually.


MUP goes into effect in Scotland on May 1, 2018. Its effectiveness will be monitored and the policy subject to a renewal vote after 6 years.


READ MORE about the legal fight for minimum unit pricing.


READ MORE about the fight for common-sense regulations in alcohol sales.

CAPA 2nd Annual Summit a Success

Thank you to CAPA 2nd annual summit participantsThanks to all our members!

Over 100 alcohol prevention allies from across the state gathered in Los Angeles on September 18th for the 2nd Annual CAPA Summit to celebrate their victory over the 4 am Bar Bill and plan for the coming year. We were joined by keynote speaker, Jacob Appelsmith, Director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and LA City Council Member Paul Koretz. Alcohol Prevention Heroes honored included Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra (D-39). ABC PIO John Carr, Lynne Goodwin of Friday Night Live Partnership and Jaime Rich of Center for Human Development.

Thanks to all who made the day one of spirit and energy -- we look making CAPA even stronger in the year to come.

Whiteclay Liquor Stores Shut For Good

Whiteclay closedIn a Victory for Pine Ridge, Oglala Lakota Have Chance to Reclaim the Town that Caused Much Pain

Sometimes sunlight shines through the smallest opening. Such was the case on September 30th, when an error in legal paperwork shut down four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska for good. The stores bootlegged 11,000 cans of beer per day, mostly to residents of the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux reservation just over the border in South Dakota, perpetuating cycles of physical and social harm to the residents there. The Nebraska Supreme Court Decision ends the store owners’ appeals, allowing the reservation to start healing and the town to recast itself from a source of pain to a site of hope.

“[The] Nebraska Supreme Court decision means that the shame of Whiteclay is over,” said Dave Domina, the who fought to keep the shut-down order in place, to the Omaha World-Herald.

“When Alcohol Justice joined this fight five years ago, there were already Oglala Lakota activists engaged in direct non-violent actions who’d been at it for decades.” said Jorge Castillo, advocacy director at Alcohol Justice. “All of us knew that if we were persistent, we would see the stores shut.”

The stores first closed in early May as the result of a Nebraska Liquor Control Commission decision. That decision refused to automatically renew the stores’ licenses on the grounds that law enforcement in the area was insufficient to deal with the crime, sex trafficking, injury, and poverty in the area. The assumption was that the stores would have to re-apply, and would be denied in the face of the ongoing public health disaster in the town.

The decision did not sit happily with a few Nebraskans. Loren Paul, a Sheridan County Commissioner who had advocated for keeping the stores open, told the Guardian, “It’s market forces … [Whiteclay] is there because there’s a need and somebody is going to supply that need.” Unsurprisingly, the store owners launched a court challenge at the district court, arguing that the liquor stores did not have the authority to order the re-application.

“The arguments made by the liquor stores were unbelievable,” Castillo said. “How can you argue that a liquor commission only exists to rubber-stamp alcohol outlets? A liquor commission’s job is to make sure that alcohol is sold in a way that is both legal and it doesn’t hurt the community."

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson concurred, and appealed the decision to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Yet instead of ruling on the validity of the liquor commission's ruling denying the renewal of the licenses, the court found fault with the legal process of the beer store owners. Citing the owners’ legal team’s failure to notify citizen protestors of the appeal, the Supreme Court threw out their entire case--leaving the Liquor Control Commission’s ruling in place.

In an October 2 editorial, the Lincoln Journal Star editorial board hailed this “rare victory to the tribes residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation.” However, they caution, the economic and social forces that enabled the liquor stores to gain their foothold are still in place. The decision, they chastise, “by no means absolves [Nebraska] of responsibility in the community and family problems caused by Whiteclay.”

Indeed, Whiteclay faces a number of challenges as it climbs free from the torrent of alcohol sales. As the Guardian notes, the area is still wracked by unsolved murders. Neighboring Pine Ridge experiences an ongoing plague of suicides and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Meanwhile, federal grants and assistance have been drying up.

“I’ve lost cousins and other relatives on the streets of Whiteclay,” Seymour Young Dog, a retired engineer living in Pine Ridge, told the World-Herald. “We’ve got to make this a better place.”

Nebraska State Senators Patty Pansing Brooks and Tom Brewer, the most prominent critics of the Whiteclay beer stores in the State Legislature, co-hosted a summit on Saturday, September 30, in Whiteclay to look for new directions for the town. A Family Dollar is slated to open and the Oglala Lakota are building out social services and counseling resources, suggesting new directions for the town and the Pine Ridge residents.

"From the beginning we held to a simple premise, namely that anything that can be legally opened can be legally closed," Castillo said. "The end of the illegal activities associated with the Whiteclay liquor stores will now change the trajectory of the Oglala people for the rest of time. The people of Pine Ridge have a new future ahead of them."

UPDATE: Whiteclay Redevelopment has launched a crowdfunding campaign for Whiteclay Makerspace, a facility for Lakota artisans to practice their crafts and revitalize their community.

READ MORE about the history of the fight to close the Whiteclay stores.