Alcohol minimum unit pricing still on the cards

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is ‘not dead and buried’, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, Tracey Crouch MP, told Alcohol Concern’s recent Happy families? conference (see news focus, page 6). However, it ‘will be delayed’. 

‘I’m extremely disappointed that government is likely to delay its implementation,’ she told the event, but stressed that there was still ‘considerable’ support within government. ‘I’m pressing, along with colleagues, for its implementation. It’s a shame that we had a secretary of state who wasn’t committed to it, because we’d be a lot further along with it now if that hadn’t been the case.’ 

Public health minister Anna Soubry has also stated that MUP was ‘still official policy’ in an interview with Total Politics magazine, and that she was now convinced of its merits, having previously expressed concerns about the potential impact on lower-income responsible drinkers. ‘You have to get the balance right, especially with public health, so that you take the measures that benefit the public’s health but without causing people to resent you,’ she told the publication.

Meanwhile, a study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of York has concluded that the alcohol industry ‘ignored, misrepresented and undermined’ scientific evidence in submissions to the Scottish Government’s 2008 consultation on minimum pricing and other measures.

Researchers studied nearly 30 submissions to the Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol consultation, including those from the Portman Group, Tesco, ASDA and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Submissions raised ‘concerns’ over the industry’s ‘ongoing involvement with policy making’, says the study, which is published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine.

‘There is a broad consensus internationally among researchers that the most effective measures to control problems caused by alcohol are to raise the price, control availability and restrict marketing activities,’ said lead researcher Dr Jim McCambridge. ‘However, our study shows that key players in the alcohol industry constructed doubt about this wealth of scientific evidence and instead chose to promote weak survey-based evidence as well as making unsubstantiated claims to their advantage.’

The tactics meant it was harder for governments to make evidence-based policy where the industry was involved, he added. ‘The public interest is not served by the alcohol industry’s misinterpretation of research evidence and we must consider to what extent we should allow the health of the population to be compromised by these commercial interests.’

The BMA has also called on MEPs to consider the public health impact of alcohol in response to the legal challenge to the Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Act mounted by the Scotch Whisky Association and other bodies on the grounds that it breaches European trade rules. 

‘Evidence clearly demonstrates the link between alcohol price and consumption and that is why doctors in the UK and internationally recognise the importance of introducing pricing mechanisms to reduce alcohol-related health harm,’ said BMA Scottish council deputy chair Charles Saunders. ‘Those who have opposed minimum pricing have dismissed such evidence and instead have presented opinion as evidence in a crude attempt to protect profits and business interests. I hope that MEPs will consider in full the public health impact as this issue is debated in Europe.’

Industry use of evidence to influence alcohol policy: a case study of submissions to the 2008 Scottish Government consultation at