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SABMiller: Scottish Alcohol Proposals will do nothing to encourage sensible drinking

2 March 2009

Today, following the Scottish Government's announcement of a proposal to introduce minimum prices for alcohol and to further restrict alcohol sales at retail, SABMiller expressed concern that the proposal will be ineffective and missed a key opportunity to address alcohol misuse.  The company believes the proposal fails to acknowledge and indeed undermines individual judgement and accountability, without which lasting behavioural change is impossible.  At best, the proposals are a distraction from focusing on education and enforcement of existing laws, which should be the cornerstone of Scotland's strategy to tackle alcohol misuse.  At worse, the policies will unfairly penalise the overwhelming majority of adults who enjoy drinking alcohol, and who do so in a legal and socially-acceptable way whilst being too broad to address the specific attitudes and behaviours that cause a minority of drinkers to engage in irresponsible and/or illegal drinking in the first place.

SABMiller cares about the harmful effects of irresponsible alcohol consumption and agrees with the Scottish Government's objective to "develop a framework for tackling alcohol misuse", but it fears that the proposals fail to focus on the real drivers for positive changes in behaviour.  Central to achieving behaviour change is the active enforcement of the laws relating to anti-social activities and the sale and consumption of alcohol.  Additionally, there should be more emphasis on the important role of parents in modelling sensible drinking behaviour and talking with their underage children about not drinking.

There is no logical or intellectual basis for having a separate age for purchasing alcohol from the off-trade.  Under the proposal, alcohol can still be consumed at 18. This change will simply lead to people between the ages of 18-20 obtaining alcohol from unlicensed social sources (e.g., older friends or siblings), rather than from licensed retailers. A recent UK Government report states that the majority (72%) of under-18s do not buy alcohol from a licensed retailer; they obtain it from a "social source."  It is therefore highly probable that this behaviour will just continue for the under 21 year olds, and it will not change the attitudes and behaviours of those people in this age group who abuse alcohol or engage in illegal behaviour when they drink, which is what the proposed framework seeks to achieve.

As a brewer, SABMiller will not be directly affected by minimum pricing as it sells only premium products in the UK. But as one of the world's largest brewers, and the only brewer listed within the FTSE 30, the company is highly critical of minimum pricing as it undermines the most fundamental aspects of a free market economy.  In other countries where minimum pricing has been imposed, brewers with economy brands have benefited significantly from charging more for their beer. Minimum prices will, however, disproportionately affect moderate drinkers and will do little to change the behaviour of heavy drinkers. 

The proposals to introduce measures to levy businesses with social responsibility payments are unworkable, unnecessary and in SABMiller's view, misguided.  This type of proposal absolves the individual who misuses alcohol or who engages in anti-social or illegal behaviour of accountability. A possible consequence of such a measure will be that these payments will simply be passed on in yet higher prices to recession-hit and cash-strapped consumers, the majority of whom are not involved in antisocial behaviour.

"Our primary concerns with the Scottish Government proposals are that they focus on blunt and ineffective measures that fail to target the problems where they occur.  Instead they impact all drinkers irrespective of whether they drink sensibly or not," explains Kristin Wolfe, Head of Alcohol Policy for SABMiller.  "It is our view and experience that action against alcohol misuse needs to be targeted specifically towards those who do not drink responsibly or legally, rather than all adult consumers.  Measures taken should educate consumers, providing them with all the information necessary to make informed decisions about their personal responsibility towards the consumption of alcohol. Learning responsible behaviour starts in the home and is reinforced through education.

"The Scottish Government should seek to find balance in how it tackles alcohol-related harm so as to stop the small minority of people who drink irresponsibly, while allowing the vast majority of adults to enjoy beer sensibly."

Notes to editors

About SABMiller plc

SABMiller plc is one of the world's largest brewers with brewing interests and distribution agreements across six continents. The group's wide portfolio of brands includes premium international beers such as Grolsch, Miller Genuine Draft, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Pilsner Urquell, as well as market-leading local brands such as Aguila, Castle, Miller Lite, Snow and Tyskie.  SABMiller is also one of the largest bottlers of Coca-Cola products in the world.

In the year ended 31 March 2008, the group reported US$3,639 million in adjusted pre-tax profit and revenue of US$21,410 million.  SABMiller plc is listed on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges.

This announcement is available on the company website:

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SABMiller plc
Tel: +44 20 7659 0100
Kristin Wolfe
Head of Alcohol Policy
Tel: +44 1483263446
Nigel Fairbrass
Head of Media Relations
Tel: +44 7799 894265 

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