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Increasing alcohol price has no impact on under 18s' drinking habits, NHS study finds

Image credit: Press Association

Increasing alcohol price has no impact on under 18s' drinking habits, NHS study finds

Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol in Scotland has not had an effect on the drinking habits of young people aged under 18, an NHS Health Scotland study has found.

The research, released on Thursday, found that MUP had not “positively or negatively” impacted the drinking habits of younger people.

Using a sample group of 50 people, aged 13 to 17, the study found the cost and price change of alcohol in Scotland was not a “barrier to drinking” for young people.

Overall, the participants did not report changing “what they drank, how much they drank or how they obtained their alcohol” in response to price alone.

“Many of the products favoured by the young people were, on average, already being sold above 50 pence per unit before MUP was introduced,” NHS Health Scotland said.

However, some young people did switch to alternative alcohol products and a small number reduced their drinking when the price of their favoured drink rose, the report said.

NHS Health Scotland principal public health intelligence advisor Jane Ford said: “a number of further studies are due to be undertaken as part of our evaluation, which will assess the impact of MUP on protecting children and young people from harm.”

“At a population level, there is evidence from other countries that pricing policies reduce consumption and alcohol-related harm, but there is less evidence available of the impact of pricing policies on children and young people specifically,” she said.

“This study increases our understanding of the potential impact of the 50 pence per unit minimum unit price, on young people in Scotland’s own drinking and related behaviour.  

“Whilst the findings published today show that implementation of MUP was not perceived to affect participant’s consumption, there were no reported negative impacts on alcohol-related harms amongst the children and young people in this study.”

NHS Health Scotland commissioned Iconic Consulting to undertake the study, and its director Ian Clark said the findings revealed that it was “clear that price is only one factor in the often-challenging life circumstances of you people who drink”.

“Whilst several of the alcoholic drinks popular with young people were already being sold above 50 pence per unit, where they did observe the price of their favoured drink rise after May 2018 – as was the case before the introduction of MUP – the young people reported being able to fund the additional cost,” he said.

“This research highlights that alcohol use amongst children and young people is a complex issue, influenced by a range of factors, which can change as they get older and their experiences and perceptions change.”

Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), a charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm, said the study provided a “unique - and concerning - insight” into the lives of teenage drinkers.

“The apparent ease with which these young people are able to acquire alcohol raises serious questions about enforcement of existing licensing legislation and age-verification arrangements which are there to protect young people,” AFS chief executive Alison Douglas said.

“It is also deeply worrying that adults are regularly providing under 18s with drink, despite the potential effects of alcohol on brain development and on young people’s wider mental and physical health. 

“Parents and carers need to be made aware of the risks and the Chief Medical Officer’s advice not to drink alcohol before the age of 18.”

She said more needed to be done to address the attractiveness of alcohol, by “controlling alcohol marketing”. “We hope that the upcoming consultation from the Scottish Government on restricting alcohol marketing will achieve this.”

MUP was implemented in May 2018, as part of the Scottish Government’s strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm. The law made it illegal to sell a unit of alcohol in licensed premises in Scotland for less than 50p.

NHS Health Scotland said the research was not designed to be an assessment of the impact of MUP on young people, it was intended “to help understand the lived experience of the young people who took part”.

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