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Minimum unit pricing led to 13% fall in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland

Scotland still allows alcohol to be sold for cheaper than Ireland’s minimum unit price policy.

THE INTRODUCTION OF minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol in Scotland has saved approximately 150 lives per year since it was introduced in 2018, according to a study by medical journal The Lancet.

Data on alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations in the years from 2012 to 2018 was gathered and compared to England’s data, where the MUP policy was never introduced.

Over the next two years and eight months following policy implementation, there was a 13% reduction in deaths from alcohol consumption compared to an estimate, using data from England.

In May 2018 the Scottish government introduced legislation implementing a minimum price of 50 pence (€0.57) per unit of alcohol (10ml or 8g of pure alcohol).

This is significantly cheaper than the €1 per 10g of pure alcohol MUP policy that was enacted in Ireland in January 2022.

Dr Grant Wyper, a public health adviser at Public Health Scotland, said:

“Scotland has the highest rate of death due to alcohol consumption in the UK, with those living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas in Scotland experiencing death rates more than five times higher compared to those living in the least deprived areas.”

“The minimum unit pricing policy aims to tackle this inequality by reducing alcohol consumption, and therefore harms to health, in the heaviest drinkers who tend to buy the least expensive alcohol.”

“Our findings indicate the policy is having a positive impact on public health – its implementation is associated with fewer alcohol-specific deaths in men and those living in the 40% most deprived areas of Scotland who are disproportionately dying of alcohol related harms.”

MUP implementation was associated with a 11.7% reduction in deaths due to alcoholic liver disease and a 23% reduction in deaths from alcohol dependence syndrome.

However, MUP was also associated with a minor increase in the rate of deaths and hospitalisations due to short-term conditions caused by alcohol consumption, such as alcohol poisoning.

The study notes that one potential cause for this is the substitution of food for alcohol because of the financial pressure that the policy can place on those with a high level of alcohol consumption.

Authors say these findings highlight the importance of ensuring timely, accessible services for those dependent on alcohol alongside the implementation of population level policies such as minimum unit pricing.

When MUP was introduced in Ireland some claimed that it would lead to higher rates of drug use, however several studies of the policy’s impact in Scotland have found this not to be the case.

Wider evidence on the extent to which MUP has had an impact in Scotland will be provided to members of the Scottish Parliament ahead of the parliamentary vote on the future of MUP in Scotland in 2024.

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