Introducing a minimum price for alcohol of 45p per unit would see alcohol-related deaths fall by around 60 in the first year of the policy, according to a refreshed report from the University of Sheffield.
The report considered the effect minimum pricing, together with the existing ban on irresponsible promotions, is estimated to have on Scotland’s alcohol misuse problem. It found that alcohol-attributable morbidity would decrease by an estimated 1,000 acute and 260 chronic illnesses in the first year and general hospital admissions would fall by 1,660. Overall weekly consumption across society would fall by six per cent, it found, with the greatest changes among harmful drinkers.
The report looked at a range of minimum prices from 25p to 70p. Appearing before the Health Committee today to talk about minimum pricing Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is “close” to coming to a final decision on what the minimum price will be and said she will announce their decision during Stage 2 of the Bill.
Sturgeon also told the committee she is “open to persuasion” about the inclusion of a sunset clause in the legislation.
“On balance I’ve decided not to put the sunset clause into the Bill at introduction but I remain open to persuasion. If that makes it easier for people to support this, even if they have reservations and remain sceptical in a way that I’m not, then I’m certainly happy to have that discussion at a future stage of the bill.”
Making the case for minimum pricing Sturgeon said that, in her view: “The facts speak for themselves.”
“Alcohol misuse burdens our health service, our police, but it also has a considerable knock-on effect on our economic potential and on families who often bear the brunt of alcohol misuse,” she said.
When you have a “coalition of opinion” that includes those who work on a day-to-day basis with the effects of alcohol misuse – such as health professionals, the police, children’s charities and even parts of the alcohol industry itself – then we have a “duty to listen,” she said, adding: “I hope this time around Parliament will.”
However, commenting today on the publication of the research Scottish Labour’s shadow public health minister, Dr Richard Simpson said that while his party is “absolutely determined” to tackle Scotland’s drink problem, it still does not believe that minimum unit pricing is the answer. “Big questions” remain about the legality of the proposals, he said, adding that it would also deliver a multi-million pound windfall for retailers instead of the NHS.
“Despite the health and social benefits of this policy being watered down every time this research is revised, this latest analysis shows that the big retailers are still set to cash in on a whopping windfall in excess of £100m,” Simpson said.
“As this policy has come under increasing scrutiny, it is becoming increasingly clear that minimum unit pricing will do more to boost the profits of big supermarkets than tackle alcohol misuse, especially amongst young people who binge drink.”
Others, however, welcomed the refreshed Sheffield study.
Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland said the study “lays bare just how effective minimum pricing could be.”
He said: “Every day, doctors witness the human cost of alcohol misuse: from emergency admissions to hospital, to watching patients die from alcohol related conditions. Today’s study once again shows that the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol can reduce consumption which in turn will reduce the health harm of alcohol on the people of Scotland.
“This new modelling work mirrors the evidence emerging from Canada which found that a minimum price can have a positive impact in reducing consumption and hospital admissions. Too many people die each year for the Scottish drinking culture to be considered ‘sociable’. The time has come to take serious action to tackle Scotland’s problem with alcohol and this study lays bare just how effective minimum pricing could be.”
While Jennifer Curran, head of policy, research and communications at Alcohol Focus Scotland urged the parties to unite around this “important” legislation.
“Minimum pricing is an effective policy because it targets the drinkers causing the most harm to both themselves and society, whilst having very little effect on the spending of moderate drinkers.
“The introduction of a minimum unit price will further strengthen the legislative measures brought into place through both the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Act 2010 which have banned quantity discounting.
“Minimum pricing offers us the opportunity to save lives and protect communities from the devastating effects of cheap alcohol and we urge all Scottish parties to unite around this important piece of legislation.”
The full report can be found here