Minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland: Has the policy saved lives or changed behaviours?

The latest report from Public Health Scotland (PHS) has concluded minimum unit pricing (MUP) has been “effective” at lowering consumption, after finding a 3 per cent fall in the volume of alcohol sales over a three-year period.

However, there is evidence within the report that shows MUP has shifted harmful drinkers from cider to fortified wine, such as Buckfast.

The report found a net reduction of 13.5 per cent in the volume of pure alcohol sold as cider in Scotland, but also found a 13.5 percent increase in the volume of pure alcohol sold as fortified wine.

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The report focuses exclusively on consumption, but the crucial studies revolve around the health and social harms associated with alcohol.

Minimum unit pricing has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption in the three years since it was implemented, a PHS report has claimed. Picture: PA
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The first of these studies, conducted by The University of Sheffield and Figure 8 Consulting, found although there was a marked increase in the prices paid for alcohol by people with alcohol dependence and those drinking at harmful levels, there was “no clear evidence found of any change in consumption or severity of dependence”.

A second study found MUP had no impact on the drinking behaviours of children and young people, although they were aware of the price increase.

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A third study is set to evaluate perhaps the most crucial metric of all – hospital admissions and deaths – the reduction of which is one of the key aims of MUP.

This will likely be the yardstick against which MUP as a whole is evaluated. And given the past two studies commissioned by PHS found no impact on the behaviours of problem drinkers and young people, there is a real chance MUP will be found to have had no impact on hospital admissions and deaths.

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We can also take a look at currently available figures – 1,245 people died from conditions caused by alcohol in Scotland last year, according to the latest figures published by National Records of Scotland. This is five per cent higher than 2020 and is the highest number of deaths since 2008.

The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 has a sunset clause that requires the Scottish Parliament to vote before May 1, 2024 on whether or not MUP will continue. These studies will prove instrumental in that decision.

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