Scots pass ‘landmark’ alcohol minimum pricing bill

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The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament, 18 months after the previous Alcohol etc (Scotland) Bill had its provisions for minimum pricing removed. The bill represents a ‘landmark moment in Scotland’s fight against alcohol misuse’ said health secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

The bill sets a 50p minimum price for a unit of alcohol as a condition of licence, although a ‘sunset clause’ has been added to allow the provisions to expire after a period of six years if they are considered ineffective (DDN, May, page 4). However, according to a modelling study by the University of Sheffield, the first year following the introduction of a 50p minimum price would see 1,600 fewer hospital admissions in Scotland and 60 fewer deaths, as well as around 3,500 fewer crimes. This would rise to 300 fewer deaths annually and 6,500 fewer hospital admissions after ten years.

The 50p price was equivalent to the 45p price set two years ago after taking account of inflation, said Ms Sturgeon, and would see the price of a 2-litre bottle of Tesco Value dry cider rise from £1.69 to £4.20 and 70cl of Glen’s vodka from £11.29 to £13.13. Many ‘name’ brands will be unaffected, however.

Alongside measures to tackle irresponsible promotions and quantity discounts, minimum pricing would help to create a ‘cultural shift’ in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, Ms Sturgeon stated. ‘It has been a long road to get to where we are now and we have worked hard to convince those who were in doubt that this was the right policy for Scotland. This policy will save lives – it’s as simple as that. It is time to turn the tide of alcohol misuse that for too long has been crippling our country. Minimum pricing will kick-start a change by addressing a fundamental part of our alcohol culture – the availability of high-strength low-cost alcohol.’

Implementation of the policy will start in April 2013 at the earliest, while the British government also recently committed itself to minimum pricing with the publication of its alcohol strategy (DDN, April, page 4). ‘This decisive move stands to make a significant impact on alcohol health harm and alcohol-related crime in Scotland,’ said Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby. ‘With minimum pricing due to be introduced in England and Wales, the government in Westminster should follow Scotland’s lead and set the minimum price to at least 50p to make a real difference.’

Meanwhile a new report from researchers at Oxford University claims that cutting alcohol consumption to just over half a unit per day – equivalent to a quarter pint of beer – would save 4,600 lives a year. Current government recommended limits are 3-4 units per day for men and 2-3 for women.

The researchers used a mathematical model to assess the impact of changing average consumption on deaths from 11 conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver and five cancers, concluding that just over half a unit a day ‘was the optimal level of consumption’ among current drinkers. ‘A couple of pints or a couple of glasses of wine per day is not a healthy option,’ said lead author Dr Melanie Nichols.’

The government has also named ten communities that have successfully bid to share £1m funding to tackle binge and underage drinking. The areas – whose bids set out how community-based approaches would deal with local prob­lems – are Bury, Chelmsford, Cornwall, County Durham, Lincoln, Maidstone, Moseley, Newcastle, Shropshire and Wakefield. University of Sheffield study available at

www.shef.ac.uk/scharr/sections/ph/research/alpol/research/scotland University of Oxford study published in BMJ Open at http://bmjopen.bmj.com