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October 18, 2015 – “There’s definitely more to be done, and we, the industry, want to be part of making that better,” says Scotch Whisky Association chief executive David Frost of Scotland’s alcohol abuse problem. To the industry’s critics, that’s like a fox pledging to a farmer that he won’t eat the chickens. Those critics banned Frost and other alcohol industry executives from this month’s Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Edinburgh, even though the Scottish Government was listed as a sponsor of the conference organized by Alcohol Focus Scotland and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance.
“We’re sorry we weren’t invited,” Frost said in an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. “We think that these things are always better debated with everyone who has an interest in an issue.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered the conference’s keynote address and repeated her pledge to impose a minimum pricing scheme for alcohol sales in Scotland over the objections of the SWA and the larger drinks industry. That scheme is currently under appeal to the European Court of Justice after Scottish courts upheld the plan, which the SWA claims violates European trade laws. A Scottish Government spokeswoman told the Scottish Licensed Trade News that the decision to exclude industry executives was made by the conference organizers. Alcohol Focus Scotland acting CEO Barbara O’Donnell told the SLTN that the move was made so attendees could share information on evidence-based alcohol policies “free from commercial interests.”
While Frost and his predecessor, Gavin Hewitt, have consistently maintained that much of Scotland’s alcohol abuse problem is caused by low-priced alcohol and not the more expensive Scotch Whisky, they see the need for action. “We recognize that there is an issue with irresponsible drinking in Scotland…the situation is improving, harm has fallen by 40% in Scotland in ten years,” he said, noting that the SWA has just awarded its second set of grants from the Scotch Whisky Action Fund totaling £100,000 ($154,300 USD) to help fund alcohol abuse programs in Scottish communities.
“We fund essentially seed-corn money for new projects, new ideas to help deal with alcohol-related harm in particular communities in particular ways. The idea is if these work, they can be scaled up, and if they don’t, nothing’s lost.”
Seven different groups received grants, including the “Space Unlimited (You Decide)” program in Port Glasgow, which is being funded for the second year to support a second phase of its program. Other grants went to the Orkney Alcohol Counselling and Advisory Service, the Granton Youth Centre in Edinburgh, the Fuse Youth Café in Glasgow’s Shettleston neighborhood, Voice of Carers Across Lothian, and family counseling programs in West Dunbartonshire, Dumfries, and Galloway. The fund was established at the end of 2013 with £500,000 in funding from SWA member companies.
According to the Scottish Government’s annual health survey, one in five adults drink at harmful or hazardous levels, which the government notes “has fallen since 2003 but not changed significantly in recent years.”