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by Tom Freeman
19 June 2019
Alcohol sales fall to lowest since 1994 in wake of MUP

Cheap alcohol - Laura Marie CC2.0

Alcohol sales fall to lowest since 1994 in wake of MUP

Alcohol sales in Scotland dropped by three per cent last year as minimum unit pricing was introduced, according to a new report by NHS Health Scoland.

Although experts say it is too early to assess the effectiveness of the policy, early signs are encouraging.

The MESAS Monitoring Report 2019, which records sales in volume of pure alcohol, showed the equivalent of 9.9 litres of pure alcohol per adult or an average of 19 units per adult per week was purchased in 2018. This is a three per cent drop on the 2017 figure.

World-first Minimum Unit Pricing was introduced in Scotland at 50p per unit to specifically target low-cost alcohol like white ciders and vodka which cause the most harm - drinks which grew Scotland's alcohol harm stats in the mid nineties - while high-end drinks have mostly remained a similar price.

Scots still buy more alcohol than in England and Wales, but the gap has narrowed to its lowest difference since 2003.

However, figures for alcohol related harm, which are taken from the year before MUP was introduced, show still significant levels of harm in Scotland.

Lucie Giles, public health intelligence adviser at NHS Health Scotland said: “With the implementation of minimum unit pricing in May 2018 we’ve seen a substantial fall in the volume of alcohol being sold at very low prices, along with the biggest rise in the average price of alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences in a decade.

“The report also shows that population level alcohol consumption, based on sales, is at an all-time low in Scotland. Since 2010, per adult sales of alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences have declined overall in Scotland, while since 2013 they have been rising in England & Wales. From the data in this report it’s not possible to quantify the full contribution of MUP on alcohol prices and sales, but these are encouraging early indicators.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman called the figures "a promising start" for MUP.

“There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families.”

Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomed the report and called for further action on marketing and availability. 

Chief executive Alison Douglas said: “There is every reason to remain confident that, as with the smoking ban, [minimum unit pricing] will significantly improve our health and the well-being of our families and communities.  But, as with tobacco control, one measure alone will not be sufficient; Scots are still drinking enough for every adult to exceed the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines by a third on every week of the year."

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert based at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It’s good news that Scots are buying less alcohol. Alcohol causes around 1,100 cases of cancer every year in Scotland*. The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of cancer.

“Measures such as minimum unit pricing can play an important role in reducing alcohol consumption, particularly among harmful and hazardous drinkers. But further action needs to be taken to increase public understanding of the dangers of drinking alcohol. Serious consideration should also be given to introducing clear information about the health risks on product labels.”

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