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Minimum alcohol unit pricing finally goes live in Scotland

Doctors welcome long-delayed move to save lives and reduce alcohol-related harms in Scotland

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 01 May 2018

Doctors’ leaders have welcomed today’s long-awaited implementation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland, which they said would save lives and reduce alcohol-related harms. NHS Health Scotland promised to evaluate the impact of the policy, but said it is already known that the price of alcohol influences how much people drink.

The Scottish parliament passed legislation in 2012 to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, below which it must not be sold in licensed premises in Scotland. However, extensive legal delays have meant that it has taken six years for the policy to finally be implemented.

NHS Health Scotland said this morning that MUP is intended to benefit those at most risk of harm, by targeting excessive consumption of high-strength, low-cost alcohol; BMA Scotland noted that these types of drinks cause the most harm to health and are the type favoured by hazardous and harmful drinkers. It added that ‘there is a strong and proven link between alcohol price and consumption’, and that price control has been shown to be one of the most effective measures that governments can take against alcohol-related harms.

The University of Sheffield has already run economic modelling that estimated that implementation of a MUP of 50 pence would save 60 lives in the first year alone, and after 10 years this figure would reach 300 lives saved annually. Its model also found that MUP will have less impact on people who drink modestly than on those who drink to excess.

Nevertheless, NHS Health Scotland pointed out this morning that as no other country has ever brought in MUP for all alcohol, it is important to evaluate the impact of the policy in Scotland; and it has been asked to do this. Clare Beeston, who will lead the independent evaluation of MUP, said: “We want to fully understand the impact it has, not just on health, but on many other things, so that when it is up for review, parliament will be able to take an informed view on whether it should continue, or not.

“The evaluation will look at a lot of things, including; the impact of MUP on health, drinking behaviours, crime, sales, those drinking at harmful levels, children and young people, small and large retailers and producers of alcohol. Alcohol ruins too many lives in Scotland and we look forward to understanding whether MUP can make a difference.”

BMA Scotland said it welcomed the policy, which it said will reduce the burden of alcohol on drinkers and their families, and on the NHS and wider society. Its chair Dr Peter Bennie commented: “It has been a long road to reach this point, but I am delighted that the persistence of alcohol campaigners, with strong BMA support, has paid off and minimum unit pricing has finally taken effect…This is an important milestone for Scotland, and many other parts of the world will now be watching the implementation of minimum unit pricing with great interest.”

He added: “Importantly, the determination with which minimum unit pricing has been pursued also shows that the alcohol industry cannot expect to successfully block policies designed to protect the health of the public.

“Minimum unit pricing can make a significant impact, but we have always been clear that it needs to be part of a broad range of actions to tackle the harms caused by alcohol misuse. As a society we need to be prepared to show the same determination when it comes to taking further action.”

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