A study led by researchers from Newcastle has found that laws banning low alcohol prices can lead to people drinking less.
The study focused on Scotland, where since May 2018 it has been illegal to sell alcohol for less than 50 pence per unit.
One unit is equivalent to half-a-pint of normal-strength beer, a single pub measure of spirits or a small glass of wine.
The survey, led by academics from Newcastle University, was published this week in The BMJ medical journal. It found that the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland has led to less booze being purchased.
The reduction was particularly marked in households that bought the most alcohol and among lower-income groups, suggesting that making cheap and strong alcohol less affordable lowers consumption. This should – in time – have positive benefits for public health.
In particular, there were reductions in the amount of own-brand spirits and high-strength ciders purchased. These are the sort of drinks the Minimum Unit Pricing Policy hoped to target.
Professor Peter Anderson, from Newcastle University, who led the study, said, “These findings show that a minimum unit price does what it was intended to do.”
“It reduces the amount of alcohol that people buy and will benefit the health of many people in Scotland, particularly those who drink the most and those with disadvantaged backgrounds.”
“We urge the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s lead – this will undoubtedly benefit many individuals and families.”
To conduct the study, the researchers studied the shopping habits of 5,325 Scottish households between 2015 and 2018.
The survey found that after minimum unit pricing was brought in, the cost of buying booze rose by an average of 5.1 pence or 7.9% per unit. There was a reduction in the amount of alcohol bought from shops and supermarkets by 1.2 units per adult per week.
The fact that the survey studied the amount of alcohol bought from stores might be significant. This is because heavier drinkers are more likely to buy alcohol from shops and supermarkets than from bars and restaurants, suggesting that minimum unit pricing (MUP) may impact this group more.
The authors of the study feel that Scotland’s policies should be introduced in the rest of the UK – particularly, it seems, in the north east.
They conclude, “Our data supports the introduction of MUP as an effective policy option in other jurisdictions.”
“Surely it is time to follow Scotland’s lead and implement MUP across the rest of the UK. Action is especially pressing for those regions, such as north-east England, with comparable levels of harm from alcohol.”
(Featured image courtesy of Daniel Lee, from Flickr Creative Commons)