Changes to how alcohol is advertised would result in the closure of small shops across Scotland, according to a leading industry figure.
Ferhan Ashiq, Scottish president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, said many convenience stores rely on alcohol sales to keep them afloat.
The Scottish government is consulting on changes including covering drinks behind counters the same as cigarettes.
But a spokesperson said that no decisions had been made yet.
Regulations could also be strengthened to ban sponsorships at sporting and live events, as well as barring distillery and brewery shops from selling branded merchandise.
The consultation closes on Thursday.
Mr Ashiq, who also runs the Levenhall Village Store in Musselburgh, said small businesses support the government’s aim to reduce problem drinking, but believes the plans are a “failure waiting to happen”.
He said convenience store owners were considering leaving the market altogether because of “heavy handed” legislation.
As well as possible changes to alcohol advertising, small shops will be impacted by a possible restrictions on single-use vapes and by the upcoming UK ban on multi-buy deals for junk food.
Mr Ashiq said: “Margins are extremely tight. You’ve got to realise there are four categories that allow a convenience store to run and they happen to be alcohol, tobacco, confectionary and soft drinks.
“Without them, this convenience store and many others would not survive, they would be closed tomorrow.
“All that’s going to lead to is increased cost for the consumer. We help reduce the costs that supermarkets will charge – if we disappear overnight the supermarkets can charge whatever they want.”
‘We may not survive’
The Scottish Retail Consortium has said the measures would cost the retail sector £96m and would require a “complete refit of thousands of stores”.
In a submission published on Tuesday, it said: “In short, these are ill-considered proposals which completely fail to recognise the work already done by retailers, the impact of the policy, and provide no substantial evidence which justifies the policy.”
An open letter to ministers from more than 100 drinks producers, including some of the biggest in the country, urged them not to “destroy Scotland’s drinks industry”.
Mr Ashiq added that installing new shelves to conceal alcohol, particularly in a small shop, would be hugely disruptive and increase the time it takes for staff to serve customers.
He urged the Scottish government to work with small businesses and deliver a campaign against heavy drinking rather than introduce new laws.
Mr Ashiq added: “We’re in one of the biggest cost of living crises with energy costs going up. We want governments to be focusing on getting energy costs under control.
“If we don’t have the ability to sell alcohol at the levels we are at the moment, or confectionary or soft drinks, it will be very difficult for us to sell perishable goods like fruit and vegetables or canned goods which sell at a much lower rate.
“It will put my store into a position where we may not survive.”
The Scottish government said it was meeting with a number of stakeholders.
A spokesperson added: “The function of consulting at this stage, before any proposals are finalised, is to give organisations and individuals the chance to feed back on these, and potential impacts.
“We have not set out a Business Regulatory Impact Assessment at this stage as the proposals are high level and part of the function of the consultation is also to better understand the potential impacts any potential restrictions could have.”
Why are changes being considered?
The Scottish government said alcohol harms is one of the country’s most pressing public health issues.
It aims to reduce alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths by restricting alcohol advertising.
It has said marketing can prompt children and young people to start drinking or to drink more, or incentivise heavy drinkers and harm their attempts to abstain.
Restricting advertising is one of the World Health Organization’s suggested measures for preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm.
According to the latest consumption figures from Public Health Scotland (PHS), 24% of adults in Scotland admit drinking more alcohol than the weekly guidelines.
However this was a similar level to 2020, which was the lowest level since 1994.
Minimum unit pricing was introduced in 2018 to curb excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, including death, crime and unemployment.
But another PHS report published last year found “no clear evidence” the policy had reduced consumption amongst the most harmful drinkers.
Instead, it found those most dependent on alcohol would find alternative ways around the price hike – such as switching to alternative cheaper alcohol or spending less money on food and bills.
The latest figures from National Records of Scotland show that 1,245 people died from conditions caused by alcohol in 2021.
This was 55 more than the previous year and the highest level since 2008.
Source – BBC News