The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland has reduced deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption by 13.4 per cent, according to Public Health Scotland’s final report on the subject.
It has also cut hospital admissions by 4 per cent, it says, with the most impact seen in the 40 per cent most deprived areas.
‘There is strong quantitative evidence that MUP was associated with a reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, relative to England where MUP was not implemented,’ the report states. ‘A smaller, and less certain, relative decrease was seen in hospital admissions wholly attributable to alcohol.’
However, the document acknowledges that for people with alcohol dependence there was ‘limited evidence of any reduction in consumption’, and some evidence that people with alcohol dependence on low incomes prioritised spending on alcohol over food.
MUP has led to a 3 per cent reduction in alcohol consumption at population level as measured by retail sales, the report says. This was particularly driven by the increase in price for off-trade cider and spirits. ‘Evidence from a range of data sources shows that the greatest reductions were amongst those households purchasing the most alcohol, with little impact on households purchasing at lower levels.’ There was also ‘no clear evidence’ of an impact on alcohol-related crime levels, or any negative impact on the drinks industry, it adds.
Despite the introduction of MUP, Scotland’s alcohol death rate in 2021 was the highest for almost 15 years, at 1,245. A recent letter from more than 30 medical organisations and charities warned that Scotland could be ‘sleep walking’ back to record levels of alcohol deaths without increased and sustained investment in treatment and action to tighten marketing regulations.
MUP was implemented at a level of 50p per unit in 2018, with a ‘sunset clause’ in the legislation meaning that it will lapse next year unless the Scottish Parliament votes to renew it. Health campaigners have long argued that the rate should be increased in line with inflation.
‘We have seen reductions in deaths and hospital admissions directly caused by sustained, high levels of alcohol consumption, and this is further evidence that those drinking at harmful and hazardous levels have reduced their consumption,’ said lead for the evaluation of MUP at Public Health Scotland, Clare Beeston. ‘MUP alone is not enough to address the specific and complex needs of those with alcohol dependence who will often prioritise alcohol over other needs, and it is important to continue to provide services and any wider support that addresses the root cause of their dependence.’
‘Public Health Scotland is committed to evidence-informed policy, and we are confident in the validity of the robust research published today,’ added its director of public health science, Dr Nick Phin. ‘The evidence in our report is consistent with earlier research on minimum pricing elsewhere.’
Evaluating the impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland: A synthesis of the evidence at https://publichealthscotland.scot/publications/evaluating-the-impact-of-minimum-unit-pricing-for-alcohol-in-scotland-a-synthesis-of-the-evidence/