Minimum unit pricing cuts alcohol spending in Scotland

Scots are drinking one measure of spirits less per week since the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland – double the predicted impact, a new study suggests.

Scottish parliament introduced an MUP for alcohol of at least 50p per unit in May 2018. Before its introduction, researchers had estimated it could reduce alcohol consumption in the country by around 3.5% per drinker each year.

The study, led by Newcastle University and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), analysed how much alcohol was bought in shops before the implementation of MUP in Scotland, and during the 34 weeks immediately after its introduction (to the end of 2018).

Researchers analysed shopping data between 2015-2018 from 5,325 Scottish households, compared with 54,807 English households as controls, and 10,040 households in northern England to control for potential cross-border effects.

The team looked at whether changes in alcohol purchases differed by type of alcoholic beverage or household income.

They found the introduction of MUP pushed up prices by 6.4p per gram of alcohol, equal to a 7.9% increase.

In addition, off-trade alcohol purchases for each adult per household dropped by 9.5g – a 7.6% drop that equates to 1.2 units of alcohol, which around a single measure of spirits.

Reductions were most notable for beer, spirits and cider, including own-brand spirits and high-strength ciders.

However, the team leading the study noted longer-term follow ups will be needed to see if the decrease was sustained, as some evidence suggests that towards the end of last year drinking levels started to rise again.

However, the paper concluded: “Our data supports the introduction of MUP as an effective policy option in other jurisdictions.”

Peter Anderson, of Newcastle University, led the research. He said: “These findings show that a minimum unit price does what it was intended to do.

“It reduces the amount of alcohol that people buy and will benefit the health of many people in Scotland, particularly those who drink the most and those with disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We urge the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s lead – this will undoubtedly benefit many individuals and families.”

The Welsh government is also looking to introduce a 50p MUP for alcohol in Wales, but plans have been delayed until at least 2020.

Plans to introduce MUP for alcohol in Scotland were fiercely contested by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), which went through a six-year legal battle in opposition to the policy.

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