These are tough times for our politicians.
Westminster is caught in the wormhole of Brexit with no end in sight. At Holyrood the collapse of the names persons scheme and a public inquiry into two new hospitals creates challenges for those in charge.
What we need is some good news when it comes to public policy and this week we got it. Over a year after it was introduced by the Scottish Government, a study suggests the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland has been a rip-roaring success.
Since May 2018 the price of alcohol has had to be at least 50p per unit. As a result, the new study by researchers at Newcastle University shows Scottish adults bought on average one unit less of alcohol every week.
The overall drop in consumption of 7.6% is almost double the impact predicted in advance.
For a country soaked in booze and with some of the worst harm rates in western Europe, it represents a vindication for a policy initiative that initially faced legal challenges and howls of protest. Already critics are hitting back claiming the research is premature.
I’d rather listen to the medical professionals at the British Medical Journal who commissioned it. They say the legislation has been effective and provides a model for others. “Surely it is time to follow Scotland’s lead and implement minimum unit pricing across the rest of the UK”, suggests the BMJ.
The drinks giants won’t like that. Scotland was the first country in the world to introduce a minimum price based on the strength of alcoholic drinks.
Given the profits at stake, the fight to introduce minimum pricing here will be nothing compared to the war that will be fought elsewehere. What’s different from now on is that there is solid evidence to prove it works. And it works best in relation to those the policy was most designed to help.
According to the research, the biggest drops in consumption were among the heaviest drinkers with sales of own brand spirits and high-strength white ciders particularly affected.
Minimum pricing is not a magic bullet. Even after the fall in consumption, Scots are still buying more than the recommended limit of 14 units every week but it is a step in the right direction after years of us being the drunk at the party. More public health education is needed and further restrictions on advertising and sponsorship are required. No major sporting or entertainment event should be promoting a booze brand nowadays, especially if they want to be in tune with the public mood.Surveys suggest a third of young people under 25 are now teetotal. So could drinking go the same way as smoking in society?
Given alcohol’s central place in every social event and gathering that seems unlikely but the smart money is looking at what future consumers want.
This week an Edinburgh company launched a crowd-funding campaign to produce Scotland’s first non-alcoholic beer on a commercial scale. In time we will look back on minimum pricing in the same as the smoking ban in public places as a force for good in all our lives.