Alcohol sales in Scotland have fallen to their lowest per-capita level since records began, official figures show*. The British Medical Association (BMA) has welcomed the “extremely encouraging” improvements, which have occurred in the first year since minimum unit pricing (MUP) was implemented in Scotland in May 2018. However, there remain huge social inequalities in alcohol consumption and related harm in Scotland.
The Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme yesterday published its 2019 monitoring report on alcohol consumption, price and harm. This revealed that the total volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland in 2018 fell to its lowest level since records began in 1994 – 9.9 litres, which is equivalent to 19 units per adult per week. MESAS said that although this level was still 9% higher than in England and Wales, the difference is the lowest since 2004. Furthermore, the volume of pure alcohol sold per adult from supermarkets and off-licences has fallen by 9% in Scotland since 2010, while it rose by 3% in England and Wales.
MESAS also reported that for the first time ever within available data, less alcohol was sold overall at cheaper than 50p per unit in Scotland, compared with England and Wales. The proportion of alcohol sold at below 50p per unit in Scottish supermarkets and off-licences in 2018 was less than half that sold in 2017.
But MESAS noted that alcohol continues to be a leading cause of morbidity and premature death, with a mean of 22 people dying from alcohol-related illness in Scotland every week. It added that mean weekly alcohol consumption is highest in the lowest income group; and in 2017, alcohol-specific death rates were seven times higher in the most deprived areas in Scotland, compared with the least deprived.
NHS Scotland’s public health intelligence adviser Lucie Giles commented: “With the implementation of minimum unit pricing in May 2018 we’ve seen a substantial fall in the volume of alcohol being sold at very low prices, along with the biggest rise in the average price of alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences in a decade.
“The report also shows that population level alcohol consumption, based on sales, is at an all-time low in Scotland. Since 2010, per adult sales of alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences have declined overall in Scotland, while since 2013 they have been rising in England & Wales. From the data in this report it’s not possible to quantify the full contribution of MUP on alcohol prices and sales, but these are encouraging early indicators.
“We know that alcohol remains a significant public health issue and people in our poorest areas continue to experience the most harm. This is unfair and it is preventable, like all harm caused by alcohol.”
The BMA has welcomed the report’s findings, having long campaigned for MUP, noting that although not ground-breaking they are “a big step in the right direction”. BMA Scotland chair Dr Lewis Morrison said: “Minimum unit pricing is a policy still very much in its infancy, but this is a very promising and welcome start to, what I hope, is the change in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol… and to see results like this in the first year is extremely encouraging.
“While we may have seen the visual effects of MUP more since the policy was introduced last year – no cheap bottles of cider for sale in shops, no promotions encouraging shoppers to buy two and get three free on beer and alcopops, less evidence of binge drinking cheap, high-strength alcohol on the streets – it was unclear how effective the policy had been in terms of sales. Now, with these figures we can see that it is working – slowly but surely, change is happening.”
*MESAS montioring report 2019. NHS Health Scotland, 19 June 2019.