Tag Archives: minimum unit pricing

ScHARR Alcohol Researchers Give Evidence at Irish Parliament

Off-License SignThere would be almost 200 fewer alcohol-related deaths in Ireland every year with the introduction of a minimum alcohol price of €1 per unit, Government commissioned research has shown. The report, details of which were produced before the Oireachtas Joint Health Committee, show a minimum unit price of €1 per standard drink will result in:

  • 8.8% fall in overall consumption.
  • 197 fewer deaths 20 years after the policy is introduced — a 16% drop.
  • 5,900 fewer hospital admissions — a 10% drop.
  • 1,500 less criminal offences in the first year.
  • 116,000 less days absent from work.
  • €1.7 billion in cost savings to society after 20 years.
  • €1.1bn in health savings, €103m in crime savings and €237m in workplace savings.

“There is strong and consistent evidence that price increases reduce alcohol consumption and related harm,” Dr John Holmes of the Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group told the committee.

Read more at The Irish Examiner


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Northern Ireland to Bring in Minimum Unit Pricing in Response to SARG Report

Cheap AlcoholThe Northern Ireland Assembly Health Minister, Jim Wells, announced plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol sales in Northern Ireland. Research from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) indicates that this could reduce drink-related hospital admissions by more than 2,400 a year.

A new report from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG), commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department for Social Development (DSD), shows that introducing a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) would reduce alcohol related deaths by 63 per year and save healthcare services £1.8 million within the first 12 months and £59 million over 20 years. MUP would minimally impact moderate drinkers, even those below the poverty line who would spend only an estimated additional 50p per person, per year on alcohol. But the policy would effectively target harmful drinkers who spend almost £3,500 per year on alcohol. The report suggests that these drinkers can be expected to reduce their drinking by 386 units as a result of a 50p MUP, which is approximately 190 pints of beer or 40 bottles of wine.

Colin Angus, from ScHARR, who authored the report, said: “The results of this study show that minimum pricing is a well targeted intervention, with the greatest impact on the heaviest drinkers who suffer the most harm as a result of their drinking whilst moderate drinkers remain largely unaffected.

“These findings reinforce those of our previous work in England and Scotland in showing that a minimum unit price would bring substantial health and social benefits and significant financial savings to health care services and the criminal justice system.”

Photo by Aussie Dave B under a Creative Commons License

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UK supermarkets minimise price rises for the cheapest alcohol when taxes are increased

Supermarkets under-shifting on the cheapest productsSupermarkets in the UK could be hindering efforts to reduce harmful drinking by not fully passing tax increases onto the price of the cheapest beers and spirits, according to health and business researchers.

A pioneering study, led by the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) with business experts from the University of East Anglia and Loughborough University and funded by the Medical Research Council, discovered retailers appear to respond to increases in alcohol taxes by ‘under-shifting’ their cheaper products (raising prices below the level implied by the tax increase) and ‘over-shifting’ their more expensive products (raising prices beyond the level implied by the tax increase).

Using weekly product-level supermarket prices for 254 alcohol products, the researchers analysed how prices changed in response to tax changes. They examined drinks sold at different price points and in four categories: beers, ciders, spirits and wines.

The findings, published today (Tuesday 24 June 2014) in the journal Addiction, showed that supermarkets responded to tax increases by subsidising prices of cheaper products. Price rises for cheaper products were up to 15 per cent below the level expected if the tax increase had been passed on fully.

Although under-shifting affected around one in six of all product lines, these drinks account for a large proportion of total sales: approximately 68 per cent of beer, 38 per cent of spirits and 31 per cent of cider sales.

There is a likely implication on health with previous research showing the heaviest five per cent of drinkers in the UK population, classified as higher-risk drinkers according to NHS guidelines, buy 33 per cent of all shop-bought alcohol and favour cheaper supermarket products.

Subsidising cheaper alcohol when taxes are increased is likely to lead to smaller reductions in excessive alcohol consumption, and consequently smaller reductions in the harms caused by excessive alcohol than if tax rises were passed on in full.

Professor Petra Meier, Principal Investigator from Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) at the University of Sheffield said: “The Government has identified the ready availability of cheap alcohol as a key influence on the UK’s high rates of alcohol-related harm.

“Alcohol duty increases can be part of a mix of measures to tackle this problem. Our new research shows that, after a tax increase, supermarkets appear to subsidise those cheaper products and pass more of the tax increases onto the mid-range and more expensive products. Because these cheaper products are the ones which tend to be favoured by high risk drinkers, the implication is that this could hinder efforts to reduce harmful drinking”.

Paul Dobson, Professor of Business Strategy and Public Policy at the University of East Anglia, added: “Subsidising cheap alcohol might be attractive to supermarkets in their efforts to increase the number and frequency of store visits that shoppers make but is socially irresponsible when it encourages excessive consumption. It is imperative that the Government take a much closer look at how taxes and duty are applied on alcohol and consider more targeted measures to address dangerous levels of consumption of cheap alcohol.”

Last year ScHARR reported that the Government’s introduction of the ban on below cost selling, which would prevent retailers selling alcohol cheaper than the cost of the tax payable on the product, would have a negligible impact on the consumption of alcohol and related harms in comparison with a 45p minimum unit price for alcohol.

Research conducted at ScHARR has been influential in providing evidence to inform alcohol policy decisions in the UK and beyond.

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Modelling the impact of minimum unit price for alcohol in Wales

ImageA new project “Modelling the impact of the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol in Wales” has started in March 2014. The project is commissioned by the Welsh Government and has been awarded to the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield. The ScHARR research team includes Yang Meng (principal investigator), Lucy Gell, Susannah Sadler, Alan Brennan, John Holmes and Petra Meier. The aim of the study is to apply the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model to appraise the likely impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on the alcohol consumption, spending, and on the levels of alcohol-related harms in terms of health, crime and absenteeism in Wales.

Photo by Larry Burdeschitze under a Creative Commons License

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Sheffield Alcohol Research Group talks at National Science Week

NSW Ash Hill AcademyAs part of National Science Week, Jessica Li and Melanie Lovatt from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) led a workshop titled ‘Binge Britain: are we drinking too much, and if we are, what do we do about it?’ in two schools on March 20th and 21st. Aiming to inspire students to consider careers in research, the workshop introduced students to the world of public health and was based on research carried out for the Alcohol Policy Interventions in Scotland and England (APISE) project, which aims to evaluate the impact of alcohol policy interventions by conducting a longitudinal survey, qualitative interviews and focus groups with policy stakeholders and the public.

Year 11 students from Ash Hill Academy in Hatfield, Doncaster and Year 10 students from Wingfield Academy in Rotherham learned about SARG’s research, before being divided into groups, where they were asked to discuss England’s relationship with alcohol, identify any social or health problems associated with alcohol and debate the pros and cons of different alcohol control policies. Example policies included minimum unit pricing, banning alcohol brands from sponsoring sport or music festivals, charging city centre pubs and clubs for the costs of policing and tidying the city centre, and making drunken people pay for any damage they cause or NHS medical treatment they receive.

Students were then asked to rank the policies from most effective to least effective, before feeding back to the rest of the groups. Interestingly, a number of students thought minimum unit pricing was one of the most effective polices while others debated whether banning alcohol advertising and increasing alcohol education in schools would be useful.

Jessica and Melanie then presented results from the APISE survey and focus groups, showing the level of support for each policy, and the extent to which they were considered to be effective, before highlighting why research is important, and the role it plays in policy making. The workshop ended with a Q&A session, where Jessica and Melanie answered questions from students about their work in SARG, and more generally about careers in research. The students enjoyed debating policies the UK Government had promoted in its 2012 Alcohol Strategy, and learning about research careers in social science and public health.


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Minimum pricing for alcohol: Reducing health inequalities without penalising responsible drinkers

Dr John Holmes, Sheffield Alcohol Research Group

alcoholic drinks

When the UK Government abandoned its proposal to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in July 2013, it argued there was a lack of concrete evidence that the policy would reduce the harm caused by alcohol without penalising responsible drinkers.  In research published today in the Lancet, the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group show minimum unit pricing avoids penalising moderate drinkers on low incomes and would contribute to the reduction of health inequalities.

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) sets a threshold below which a unit of alcohol cannot be sold to consumers.  Under a 45p MUP a pint of beer containing two units would need to cost at least 90p and a bottle of wine containing 9 units at least £4.05.  Since heavier drinkers typically pay less per unit for their alcohol than moderate drinkers, and of course buy more units in the first place, this means that heavier drinkers would be affected the most by MUP.

The impact of MUP on the poor

In our new research, we explore the impact of MUP on those with low incomes who may be more likely to buy cheap alcohol.  In particular we were interested in claims the policy could be particularly regressive by targeting drinks bought by the poor.  To investigate this, we constructed a model of the relationship between MUP, people’s alcohol spending and consumption and the health risks associated with that consumption.

We separated the population into moderate, hazardous and harmful drinkers and found moderate drinkers in the lowest income group bought very little alcohol for less than 45p per unit – less than one unit per week on average.  When we estimated how much their consumption would reduce under a 45p MUP, we found it would drop by just 4 units per year – approximately 2 pints of beer.  As this income group were the least likely to drink and most likely drink at moderate levels if they did so, this suggests the overwhelming majority of those on low incomes would not be substantially affected by MUP.

Among heavier drinkers the picture was different.  For harmful drinkers, a 45p MUP was estimated to have a large effect which varied substantially by income.  For the lowest income group consumption would fall by 300 units per year among the 5% who are harmful drinkers, compared to 34 units in the highest income group of whom 8% are harmful drinkers.

Purchasing of Alcohol Below 45p per Unit

Reducing health inequalities

Even though harmful drinkers with lower incomes are the group likely to be affected most by MUP, this does not necessarily mean the policy is regressive.  To understand its full implications we need to look at its success in achieving MUP’s primary aim – reducing alcohol-related harm.

For reasons which are unclear, those with lower incomes appear to suffer greater risks of harm from their drinking than those with higher incomes.  The combined effect of the bigger risks and bigger consumption reductions means low income groups would be by far the biggest beneficiaries of the policy in terms of health improvements.  A 45p MUP is estimated to lead to 860 fewer deaths and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions due to alcohol per year and routine or manual worker households would account for over 80% of these.  On this measure, the policy can be argued to be strongly progressive.

Model-based estimates of policy effects are, of course, subject to uncertainty and we take account of this by using different assumptions and inputting alternative data to see what the range of plausible effects might be.  Although the size of the effects varied under these scenarios, the key findings remained the same and give us greater confidence in our conclusions.

Effectiveness and fairness

We consistently find, across a wide range of plausible scenarios, no support for the UK Government’s concerns that minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers.  This is because the estimated effects on this group are negligible, even in the lowest income groups.  Instead, the policy targets those at greatest risk of harm – heavier drinkers on low incomes.  As such, the benefits of the policy are also concentrated on this group.

The reduction of health inequalities, including those generated by alcohol consumption, is an explicit aim of the Government’s public health policy.  Our research shows minimum unit pricing would make an effective contribution to reducing such inequalities by particularly reducing the harm caused by alcohol in lower socioeconomic groups.  It also challenges perceptions about levels of drinking among the poorest in our society and raises important questions about how we judge the fairness of public health policies.


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