Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Minimum unit pricing has lasting impact study shows

Minimum unit pricing targets the cheapest and strongest alcoholic products and the heaviest drinkers that are at the greatest risk of alcohol-related harm. Recent findings published in The Lancet led by researchers from Newcastle University found that a decrease in alcohol purchases in Scotland was sustained in 2020, two years on from when MUP was implemented (in 2018). The study also provides early evidence that MUP in Wales, more recently implemented, also had an immediate impact in reducing alcohol purchases, particularly in heavier drinking households.

In response to the study, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said, “This is hugely encouraging research from Newcastle University. Not only is MUP continuing to have the intended effect in reducing overall alcohol consumption in Scotland, it is those that tended to buy the most alcohol who are most likely to reduce the amount they purchase. Alongside this, we are seeing early signs that this reduction in consumption may be beginning to translate into wider improvements in health, with a reduction of 10% in alcohol-specific deaths in the first year of MUP. 

“This being said, it’s widely recognised that the effect of the current 50p minimum price has been significantly eroded by inflation since the policy was approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2012. MUP has the potential to deliver even greater benefits. Now is the time to increase the minimum price to not only account for inflation, but also set it at a level that will save more lives and prevent a new generation from developing a problematic relationship with alcohol. The Scottish Government should look to increase the minimum unit price to at least 65p per unit and to future-proof its positive effects by ensure that the price is increased in line with inflation.”

What this means

Professor Peter Anderson from Newcastle University, led the study. He said: “Our previous work suggested that the introduction of a MUP in Scotland during May 2018 was associated with an immediate reduction in the amount of alcohol that households purchased from shops or supermarkets.

“This latest analysis shows that the policy has continued to make an impact, with data showing a sustained drop in overall units of alcohol bought by some of the highest-consuming households, two years on.

Professor Eileen Kaner, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research at Newcastle University and Director of the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria, co-authored the study.

She said: “We know that drinkers at the greatest risk of harm tend to consume the cheapest alcohol, particularly from shops and supermarkets, where prices are much lower. This is why minimum unit price as a public health policy specifically targets lower cost products – and this impact has been seen the most in products such as ciders and to some extent, spirits.

“Overall, Minimum Unit Price is an effective policy that could be widely and easily implemented, and this evidence suggests that it is a powerful but also highly-targeted option to reduce alcohol purchases and, hopefully, levels of consumption.”

Public Health Scotland is also leading a comprehensive evaluation to assess the impact of MUP on a range of outcomes, the complete findings of which will be reported in 2023.

28 May 2021