ALCOHOL consumption in Scotland has fallen for two years in a row, as the price of alcohol has increased, a new NHS report has shown for the first time.
The study found there has been a 5 per cent drop in sales over the past two years, the first time the level has gone down since 1994.
The duty paid on alcohol has been increasing at a rate 2 per cent higher than inflation since 2008. In bars and restaurants, there has been a 13p rise per unit, while in off-sales the price has gone up by 9p a unit, the study says. At the same time, the report says a decline in people’s income means they have less to spend on alcohol.
Health experts and the Scottish Government said the report illustrated a direct link between increasing the cost of alcohol and a drop in drinking levels, and insisted that reinforced the need for minimum pricing.
But campaigners said the figures showed that current measures were working. The Scottish Government’s proposals for minimum pricing are facing a legal challenge.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “There is indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters. Quite simply, if the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol-related harm goes down.”
The study published yesterday revealed for the first time that consumption had fallen in 2010, when litres of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland fell to 11.7 from 11.9. That decrease continued in 2011, when it fell to 11.2. But that figures is still far greater than in 1994, when it was 10.2.
But despite the fall, the figures show people in Scotland still drink a fifth more alcohol than in England and Wales.
Similarly, although mortality rates have come down by
25 per cent since 2003, they are still nearly twice as high as south of the Border.
Dr Gillan said: “It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the global alcohol producers have joined forces to mount a legal challenge.
“Like their colleagues in the tobacco industry, the global producers oppose any policies that are actually going to be effective in reducing consumption, despite their supposed commitment to tackling alcohol harm.”
Clare Beeston, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland, said the figures showed that setting the minimum cost of alcohol at 50p per unit could save lives by making alcohol less affordable.
She said: “The analysis supports the well-established relationship between alcohol
affordability and consumption, and some of these improvements are likely to be the result of the recession rather than permanent changes in consumption patterns, which history shows tend to reverse when the economy improves.
“It is important to ensure Scotland continues to implement the comprehensive alcohol strategy to ensure that these improvements are sustained.”
But some organisations from the drinks industry disputed this claim, saying the research showed pricing legislation was no longer needed because consumption and sales were falling.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “This decrease reported here is almost as much the Scottish Government predicated would be achieved by a 50p minimum unit price.
“The vast majority of Scots must therefore be asking why the government wants them to pay more when progress is being made and family budgets are already stretched.”
The Scotch Whisky Association, which has challenged minimum pricing on legal grounds, highlighted that the new figures showed a 25 per cent drop in alcohol-related deaths since a peak in 2003. Spokeswoman Rosemary Gallagher said: “Alcohol sales have been falling in Scotland since 2009 and have dropped by 5 per cent in the last two years alone.
“Such a drop in sales, along with a decline in a number of alcohol-related harms, suggest initiatives already in place to reduce consumption are having an impact.”
The report, Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy, also found prosecutions for “drunkenness” had dropped 27 per cent since 2001 and drink-drive rates were 40 per cent lower than in 2002.
The European Commission has described the minimum pricing plan as “disproportionate”, saying it preferred a wholesale increase in all alcohol prices through increasing taxes or unspecified targeted measures in the specific regions where alcohol abuse is a problem.