Scottish courts back minimum alcohol price

Plans to set a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland have today (21 October 2016) been backed by the Scottish courts.

Research conducted by experts from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG)1 at the University of Sheffield have been influential in providing evidence to inform policy which now paves the way for the Scottish government to implement the new plan, passed by MSPs in 2012.

The Scottish government, health professionals, police, alcohol charities and some members of the drinks industry believe minimum pricing would help address Scotland’s “unhealthy relationship with drink”.

mainHealth gains

Experts from SARG based at the University’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) estimated that implementing a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland would have the following effects after one year:

  • 60 fewer deaths due to alcohol
  • 1,300 fewer hospital admissions due to alcohol
  • 3,500 fewer crimes due to alcohol

The health gains will continue to increase over 20 years and researchers estimate that the full effect of the policy would be:

  • 120 fewer deaths due to alcohol each year
  • 2,000 fewer hospital admissions due to alcohol each year

Under a 50p MUP in Scotland, alcohol consumption is estimated to fall by 3.5 per cent overall and by seven per cent among harmful drinkers compared to 1.2 per cent among moderate drinkers.2

For harmful drinkers, this equates to 250 fewer units of alcohol per year – approximately equivalent to 125 pints of beer, 25 bottles of red wine or over six litres of vodka.

The Scottish Court of Session particularly examined whether equivalent benefits to public health could be achieved by increasing alcohol taxes. Analyses by the University’s research group, which were commissioned by the Scottish government, show that:

  • To achieve the same reduction in deaths as would be achieved by a 50p MUP, alcohol duties would need to be increased by an estimated 27 per cent.
  • To achieve the same reduction in deaths among harmful drinkers as would be achieved by a 50p MUP, alcohol duties would need to be increased by an estimated 36 per cent.
  • To achieve the same reduction in deaths among harmful drinkers in poverty (the group at greatest risk from their drinking) as would be achieved by a 50p MUP, alcohol duties would need to be increased by an estimated 70 per cent.

Professor Petra Meier, Director of SARG, said: “Our analyses of minimum unit pricing have consistently shown that the policy is an effective and well-targeted approach to reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

“Increasing alcohol taxation is also an effective approach but large tax increases would be required to achieve the same effects as a 50p minimum unit price. This is because minimum unit pricing targets the high-strength and low-cost alcohol which is disproportionately purchased by heavier drinkers.”

Under the plans, a price of 50p per unit of alcohol would be set, taking a bottle of spirits to a price of at least £14.

Additional information

1 Estimates of the effects of minimum unit pricing and increases in alcohol taxation are produced using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model. Further information can be found at the following links:

A summary of the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model

The most recent estimates for Scotland of the impact of minimum unit pricing and taxation on health outcomes (PDF)

The most recent estimates for Scotland of the impacts of minimum unit pricing and taxation on alcohol-related crime and workplace related outcomes (PDF)

The most estimated for England of the impact of minimum unit pricing

2 Moderate drinkers are those consuming no more than 21 units per week for men and 14 units per week for women. Harmful drinkers are those consuming more than 50 units per week for men and 35 units per week for women. One unit of alcohol is 7.9g of pure ethanol. There are approximately two units in a normal strength pint of beer, 10 units in a bottle of red wine and 40 units in a litre of vodka.

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