Expert warns that minimum pricing legislation will not deter young people from binge drinking

Dr Holmes said he was unsure whether legislation would impact significantly on binge drinking among young people. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dr Holmes said he was unsure whether legislation would impact significantly on binge drinking among young people. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SUPPORTERS of minimum pricing in the Scottish parliament may be overstating the potential impact the move would have on young binge drinkers, an academic warned today.

The policy is supported by the SNP and is expected to be passed at Holyrood this year.

Today Dr John Holmes, from the University of Sheffield, appeared with his colleague Professor Alan Brennan before Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, which is looking into the price plan.

Asked by Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw if the potential impact of the policy is being overstated, Dr Holmes said: “Young people is perhaps the only area where I perhaps wouldn’t agree with what’s out in the public domain.

“If people are saying this is going to have a huge impact on young people binge drinking, it’s not exactly clear if that will be the case.

“There will be some impact and we can see the model predicts there will be reductions in various types of crimes.

“Part of that is to do with some on-trade alcohol being sold at low prices. Part of it is to do with some alcohol-related crime following binge drinking sessions which started with drinking at home.”

Mr Carlaw asked the panel - which included another professor and a research economist - if they would stand by the evidence if the policy does not work.

Prof Brennan said he would be “very” surprised if there was no positive effect on health.

“We don’t expect to be wrong in a completely overturning way,” he added.

“I expect the results of the first year, the second year, the third year, to be either higher or lower than our estimates with equal uncertainty at the moment.”

Dr Holmes said he rejected the premise of the question, adding: “We have never advocated any particular legislation beyond saying this is an effective policy.”

Professor Jonathan Chick, honorary professor at Queen Margaret University, said: “I would still support it because I think it’s extremely logical for a product which is not an ordinary commodity.”

The committee was also told wider policies on tackling alcohol abuse are working.

The SNP failed to win support for minimum pricing in the previous minority administration. But the party did manage to steer other policies through Holyrood, such as a ban on multi-buy deals including two-for-one on wine.

The committee heard that between October and November last year - after the multi-buy ban - there was a decrease of 8% for beer sales, 5% for wine and 3% for spirits, compared with the same period in the previous year. In England, beer sales grew by 1% over the same period, MSPs were told.

Andrew Leicester, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, argued minimum pricing will have a greater impact on low-income households.

In a written submission, he stated: “Without behavioural changes, the cost to the poorest households of a 45p unit minimum price would be 2% of their total food budget, compared to 1.3% for the richest.

“The impact would also be greatest for those who consume the most alcohol - those buying more than 35 units per adult per week would lose 13% of their food budget.”