There has been no impact on underage drinking as a result of minimum unit pricing in Scotland, a study has found.
Under-18s reported no change in their behaviour or ability to obtain alcohol despite potential price rises.
The NHS Scotland study is the first to look at underage drinking in Scotland since the minimum unit policy (MUP) was introduced in May 2018.
Interviews with 50 drinkers aged between 13 and 17 revealed there was no impact – positive or negative – on their consumption habits once the minimum unit price of 50p came into force.
The report states many of the drinks favoured by young people were either not affected by the price change or the increased cost was not a barrier to them accessing alcoholic drinks. It found the price of alcohol was not seen as a key factor in their drinking behaviour and the interviewees said minimum unit pricing had not changed what they drank, how much they consumed and how they got their hands on alcohol.
Jane Ford, NHS Health Scotland’s principal public health intelligence adviser, said the study helped to understand the drinking behaviour of young people in Scotland – an area where little evidence exists.
But Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland warned: “This study provides a unique – and concerning – insight into the lives of a group of teenage drinkers and shows that the cost of alcohol is only one factor in their alcohol consumption.
“The apparent ease with which these young people are able to acquire alcohol raises serious questions about enforcement of existing licensing legislation and age-verification arrangements which are there to protect young people.
“It is also deeply worrying that adults are regularly providing under-18s with drink, despite the potential effects of alcohol on brain development and on young people’s wider mental and physical health.
“Parents and carers need to be made aware of the risks and the Chief Medical Officer’s advice not to drink alcohol before the age of 18.
“The research also points to many of the products favoured by these young people as already costing more than 50p per unit, before MUP was introduced. We also know that brands are important to children and young people whether we’re talking about clothes and trainers or indeed alcohol. More needs to be done to address the attractiveness of alcohol by controlling alcohol marketing.”
The survey was carried out by Iconic Consulting. The body’s director Ian Clark said: “Overall our findings suggest that the introduction of MUP had limited impact on the alcohol consumption of the children and young people participating in this study, and no reported impact on their related behaviour.”
“This study provides an important understanding of the wider context surrounding those young people’s experiences with alcohol – and it is clear that price is only one factor in the often challenging life circumstances of young people who drink.”
Responding to the study, public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Initial national sales data for 2018 has already shown an overall 3 per cent drop in sales of pure alcohol per adult ... we want to go further to protect our children and young people from alcohol harms and that is why I intend this year to consult on potential mandatory restrictions on alcohol marketing and advertising. Scotland will be the first of the UK nations to do so.”