The Scotch Whisky Association recently reported that global exports of Scotch whisky grew to over £6 billion for the first time in 2022, making up 75% of all Scottish food and drink exports, as well as 25% of all UK food and drink exports.
However, figures released in the same year by the National Records of Scotland showed there was a slight increase in alcohol-specific deaths in 2021, with 22.4 people per 100,000 dying in relation to the substance.
So, is there a link between high levels of alcoholism in Scotland and its lucrative drinking culture and heritage?
Although alcohol-related deaths fell slightly in 2019, the number of deaths have again been on the rise, whilst Scotch whisky revenues have hit record-high figures in three separate years since 2017.
The Scottish Government introduced minimum unit pricing (MUP) in 2018 in attempts to curb high levels of alcohol consumption.
But the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Alison Douglas, says that even with government intervention, Scots now drink around a third more alcohol than they did in the 1970s, with the marketing of alcohol a contributing factor.
“Companies spend millions linking their products to the things that matter to us such as socialising with friends and family, enjoying music and cultural events, or supporting our favourite team.
“This affects us all, making alcohol appear normal and desirable, to the extent that we almost see drinking as an intrinsic part of Scottish identity. Unfortunately this drives high levels of consumption that have consequences for our health and wellbeing and that of those around us.
“Decades of research show that exposure to alcohol marketing leads children and young people to start drinking earlier, to drink more, and to drink at problematic levels. People in recovery from alcohol problems talk about how alcohol marketing can act as a trigger and poses a risk to their recovery.”
However, the BBC reported in 2019 that the whisky industry supports 42,000 jobs across the UK, with 10,500 of these being in Scotland, making it a huge supplier of jobs throughout the country – especially in rural areas.
The Scotch Whisky Association also reported that there was 2.2 million visits to distilleries in 2019, making the industry the third most popular tourist attraction in Scotland.
In line with this, it is clear that the whisky industry is a huge contributor to Scotland’s economy.
Mark Kent, chief executive of The Scotch Whisky Association, said in a statement that “Passing £6bn in export value for the first time is a milestone, and testament to the work of our member companies and the tens of thousands of employees across Scotland and the UK supply chain who make Scotch Whisky a global success story of which we are rightly proud.”
But another spokesperson said that the organisation shared the same goals as the Scottish Government in regards to reducing harmful consumption and protecting children from alcohol marketing.
“The Scotch Whisky industry has a robust marketing code in place, which regulates how brands are advertised globally. We want to share the lessons of regulations already in place so that there are no unintended consequences, including a reduction in the vital support the industry provides to communities across Scotland.”
They said that the Scotch Whisky Association agreed with the Scottish Government that there is a need for an “objective, independent and robust assessment” of the full impact of MUP.
“We await the outcome of the overall evaluation before drawing any conclusions as to the effectiveness of the policy”, said the spokesperson.
“Meanwhile, we continue to work in partnership with a range of stakeholders to promote responsible drinking and to tackle alcohol-related harm.”
Public Health Scotland reported in November 2022 that minimum unit pricing was effective in reducing alcohol consumption over the first three years of its implementation, but a study in 2021 from Manchester Metropolitan University revealed that the scheme was having a minimal impact on alcohol-related crime.
The Scottish Government recently said that it is working with partners to deliver an action plan on drugs and alcohol misuse, which involves evaluating minimum unit pricing and “working to reduce the number of people with problem drug use in Scotland through drugs education and prevention activity.”