As members have already said, according to Alcohol Focus Scotland, alcohol problems cost the Scottish taxpayer an estimated £1.1 billion a year in their effects on the NHS, social work, police and emergency services and in wider economic costs. Indeed, there are also unquantifiable human costs. That figure is not surprising when one considers the recent NHS Scotland briefing that pointed out that one in 10 accident and emergency admissions in Scotland can be attributed to alcohol and that alcohol-related deaths, which now stand at 2,000 a year, have more than doubled over the past decade.
Those figures are a stark reminder of the scale of the problem.
Most disturbing was the research highlighted by Children in Scotland, which showed that one in every 100 live births suffers from foetal alcohol syndrome. The statistic suggests that, of the 55,000 Scots born last year, 550 had FAS. Kenny Gibson and Claire Baker have already highlighted the problems associated with the condition, and the emotional hardship and trauma faced by the families and children who are affected each year by this completely avoidable affliction are truly upsetting.
Scotland's drink culture was recently the subject of a study by Scottish Health Action, which revealed that 47 per cent of men and 36 per cent of women consume alcohol to dangerous levels. The message is clear: Scotland has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and measures must be taken to tackle it.
Kenny MacAskill has already sent out a clear message that we will no longer tolerate either unruly behaviour motivated by alcohol or the outdated and irresponsible use of alcohol as a scapegoat by those who commit crimes while under its influence. I also welcome his call to extend to off-licences and supermarkets laws that already ban irresponsible promotions in bars, as the availability of cheap booze deals has undoubtedly played a significant role in the fermentation of Scotland's binge drinking culture. Martin Woodrow, the secretary of the BMA in Scotland, welcomed Kenny MacAskill's announcement by stating:
"the Scottish Government is taking the nation's alcohol problem seriously. We support these tough measures to end the deep discounting of alcohol by off-sales and supermarkets which, in some cases, has led to alcohol being cheaper than bottled water."
For the sake of the nation's health, we must seek to change attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol. It is time that we engaged the public and broadened the debate, and Scottish alcohol awareness week is the perfect platform in that respect.