Minimum pricing still on the cards

Alcohol minimum unit pricing is ‘not dead and buried’, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, Tracey Crouch MP, told Alcohol Concern’s Happy families? conference. However, it ‘will be delayed’.

‘I’m extremely disappointed that government is likely to delay its implementation,’ she told the event, although she added that a minimum unit price was ‘not a silver bullet’. There was still ‘considerable’ support for minimum unit pricing (MUP) within government, she stressed. ‘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.’

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