Scottish off-sales down 5 per cent in year after MUP

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Sales of alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences in Scotland fell between 4 and 5 per cent in the year after minimum unit pricing (MUP) was introduced, compared to England and Wales.  

The analysis, from Public Health Scotland in partnership with the University of Glasgow, was controlled for seasonal fluctuations, underlying trends such as household income and other factors, the researchers say, meaning it is ‘reasonable to conclude that the reductions in volume of alcohol sold were due to the introduction of MUP’. 

The biggest relative net reductions were seen in the products whose price increased  most after the introduction of MUP, such as high-strength cider, with smaller reductions recorded for beer and spirits. MUP was introduced in Scotland in May 2018, following a lengthy legal battle with the drinks industry. Public Health Scotland says it will publish a three-year analysis of post-MUP sales in 2022. 

‘The methods used in this study allow us to be much more confident that the reduction we have seen in per adult off-trade sales is as a result of the introduction of MUP, rather than some other factor,’ said professor of medical statistics at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, Jim Lewsey. ‘Incorporating data from England and Wales into our analysis controls for any changes in sales in a neighbouring region where the legislation was not introduced. We’ve also been able to adjust for other factors, such as household income, sales of alcohol through pubs and clubs and of other drink types.’

However the reductions were partly offset by off-trade sales of wine, fortified wine and ready-to-drink beverages, which the analysis ‘found to have increased in the year post-MUP’, said public health intelligence principal at Public Health Scotland, Lucie Giles. 

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.

‘It’s very encouraging to see further evidence that minimum unit pricing for alcohol seems to be changing our drinking habits for the better,’ added chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Alison Douglas. ‘A reduction of between 4 and 5 per cent in off-sales in the 12 months following the introduction of MUP is really significant. It is also clear that it is the high-strength, low-cost drinks, favoured by heavier drinkers, which we are drinking less of. This gives real cause for optimism that MUP is having the intended effect and that it will improve – and save – many people’s lives.’

It was important not to become complacent, however, as Scotland was still drinking enough for every adult to exceed the CMO guidelines by a third every week, she said. ‘For some of us the pressure of lockdown and social distancing may mean we are drinking more.’