Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Minimum unit pricing update

In the last month there has been substantial media coverage of minimum unit pricing as reports and statistics have been published.

Both the report on Evaluating the impacts on the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland: baseline evidence and initial impacts and on the Immediate impact of minimum unit pricing on alcohol purchases in Scotland: controlled interrupted time series analysis for 2015-18 demonstrate some early indications that minimum unit pricing may be having a positive impact.

The Immediate impact report from Newcastle University found following the introduction of MUP that the amount of alcohol purchased per person per week fell by 1.2 units (7.6%) and reported a bigger fall among the heaviest fifth of drinkers - the amount purchased by this group fell by two units. Reductions were most noticeable for beer, spirits, and cider, including own-brand spirits and high-strength white ciders. This is really encouraging as the policy was designed to effectively target the most harmful drinkers who buy most of the cheapest, strongest alcohol. It’s heartening to see that MUP appears to be encouraging the heaviest drinkers to cut down and is having a minimal effect on household budgets.

The report from Frontier Economics as part of the MESAS evaluation of MUP considered how the alcohol industry – both retailers and producers – were responding to the policy. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods the researchers found that minimum unit pricing has not had any real negative impact on the alcohol industry. The study also shows that, as predicted, consumers are switching to smaller size packs and lower strength products. 

However, we think it is important to note that there was a limited amount of quantitative data available to the researchers.  To test the qualitative information provided by the alcohol industry we need a fuller picture of alcohol sales in Scotland. This further makes the case for a need to make it a legal requirement on all licensed premises to provide sales data as a condition of their licence. 

However, as these and other studies have shown so far, there is every reason to remain confident that the benefits from MUP will continue to build and significantly improve our health and the well-being of our families and communities.  But one measure alone is not enough; if we are to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol for good we also need to take action to control availability and restrict marketing.

Find out more about Minimum Unit Pricing and the MESAS evaluation.