Minimum pricing will tackle ‘harmful’ drinking

The bid for a minimum price of 50p per unit is being held up by a legal challenge. Picture: PAThe bid for a minimum price of 50p per unit is being held up by a legal challenge. Picture: PA
The bid for a minimum price of 50p per unit is being held up by a legal challenge. Picture: PA
A MINIMUM price of 45p per unit would tackle problem drinkers without penalising those who drink moderately, a new study has found.

The level is 5p less than the Scottish Government’s proposed 50p limit, which is currently being held up by a legal challenge.

The study adds weight to ministers’ argument that a minimum price is needed to help cut Scotland’s alcohol intake.

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The study by Sheffield University used computer analysis of how people might be expected to respond to a minimum price for alcohol of 45p per unit, or around £1.35 for a large glass of wine.

The researchers concluded that the policy would make the greatest difference to the 5 per cent of the population whose drinking is categorised as “harmful”. These are men who consume more than 50 units of alcohol a week and women who consume more than 35.

People on low incomes – in the bottom fifth – were predicted to cut their alcohol intake by almost 300 units a year.

The study estimated that this group currently spends just under £2,700 a year, on average, on alcohol, with around two-fifths of that bought for less than 45p per unit.

However, moderate drinkers in the same low-income group were predicted to reduce their consumption by just 3.8 units per year under minimum pricing.

Dr John Holmes, who led the study, said: “Overall, the impact of a minimum unit price policy on moderate drinkers would be very small, irrespective of income. The policy would mainly affect harmful drinkers, and it is the low income harmful drinkers – who purchase more alcohol below the minimum unit price threshold than any other group – who would be most affected.

“Policy makers need to balance larger reductions in consumption by harmful drinkers on a low income against the large health gains that could be experienced in this group from reductions in alcohol-related illness and death.”

The Scottish Government’s minimum price of 50p was passed by MSPs in 2012, but is currently facing a challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in the Court of Session. The SWA argues that the limit is a breach EU trading rules.

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However, the Scottish Government insists that tackling cheap alcohol is vital to improving the nation’s health.

Sir Ian Gilmore, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol and chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “It is excellent to have this important confirmation of what we have been telling the UK government – a minimum unit price for alcohol would not damage the pockets of moderate drinkers whatever their income, and is an evidence-based policy exquisitely targeted at those, and those around them, who are currently suffering harm.

“It is time for [the UK] government to stop listening to the vested interests of the drinks industry and act.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to introducing a minimum unit pricing policy for alcohol. We strongly believe that, as part of a concerted package of measures, minimum price per unit of alcohol will be an effective and efficient way to tackle alcohol misuse in Scottish communities, with significant health and social benefits.”