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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
22 November 2022
Scots purchasing less alcohol as sales rise in England and Wales since minimum unit pricing

Alcohol on sale in off-licence | Credit: Alamy

Scots purchasing less alcohol as sales rise in England and Wales since minimum unit pricing

Scots are purchasing less alcohol while sales south of the border have increased since minimum unit pricing (MUP) was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2018, according to a new study.

Figures published by Public Health Scotland (PHS), in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, show that in the first three years following the implementation of MUP sales per adult in Scotland fell by 1.1 per cent, while sales in England and Wales increased by 2.4 per cent. 

PHS claims that the study shows the net reduction of over three per cent was driven by a reduction in sales of alcohol per adult through the off-trade (supermarkets and other shops). They note that there was no observed impact on sales in the on-trade market (restaurants and bars).  

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce MUP for alcohol, which was set at 50p per unit of alcohol. The legislation targeted low-cost, high-strength beverages which are seen as a source of alcohol-related crimes.  

Lucie Giles, public health intelligence principal at PHS, said: “The latest data shows a reduction in per adult sales of pure alcohol in Scotland at the same time an increase in England and Wales was observed. We found net reductions in per-adult sales of cider, perry, spirits and beer, and net increases in per-adult sales of fortified wine and wine. Taken together, the overall impact of MUP on total per-adult alcohol sales in Scotland was a 3% net reduction, driven by a reduction in off-trade sales.

"We found little evidence to suggest that MUP caused any changes in per-adult sales of alcohol through the on-trade, suggesting that MUP did not cause a substantial shift towards alcohol consumption in pubs. 

“Our main finding was consistent across a range of different conditions as tested through our additional analyses. We can conclude that, across Scotland as a whole, MUP has been effective in reducing alcohol consumption in the first three years of implementation.” 

Jim Lewsey, professor of medical statistics at the School of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, said: “The methods we’ve used in this study allow us to be confident that the reduction in per-adult alcohol sales that we’ve shown is as a result of the introduction of MUP, rather than some other factor. Incorporating data from England & Wales into our analysis controls for any changes in sales in a neighbouring region where the legislation was not introduced. This was of particular importance with the COVID-19 pandemic occurring in our three-year post-intervention study period, as we know the pandemic impacted where people were able to purchase alcohol. 

“We’ve been able to adjust for other factors, such as household income, sales of alcohol through pubs and clubs and of other drink types. This statistical method also allows us to take into consideration any existing trends and seasonal variation in the data, which may have existed independently of MUP, but which could have impacted alcohol sales following its introduction. The methods we’ve used and the consistency in our results allow us to be confident that the reduction in alcohol sales is associated with the introduction of MUP in Scotland.” 

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