Alcohol minimum unit price not “overnight” fix

Time will tell whether year-old pioneering policy has had effect proponents promised

Thursday 2nd May 2019

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland has said minimum unit pricing for alcohol – introduced a year ago by the Scottish Government to target the most harmful drinkers – will “not change Scotland’s problem with alcohol overnight”.

Dr Lewis Morrison said: “We must be patient and appreciate that this is about long-term change, changing behaviours and improving lives.”

This echoes a claim by a leading alcohol charity that “it’s going to take some time before we get a really full picture” about the effects of MUP.

In an interview with healthandcare.scot, Alison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland backed tougher action on alcohol availability and a crackdown on advertising to vulnerable groups alongside the new pricing initiative.

The charity boss also called for the extra cash raised by MUP to be diverted into treatment programmes instead of “lining the pockets of retailers”.

Like Alcohol Focus Scotland, the doctors’ union says it will take a long time for MUP to kick in.

Dr Morrison added: “It’s difficult to say just how much of an impact the 50p per unit minimum pricing has had over the past 12 months.”

“The effects currently may be more visual than physical: if we look around us we don’t see cheap bottles of cider for sales in shops, or promotions of buy two get three free on beer and alcopops.

“There may be less evidence of binge drinking cheap, high-strength alcohol on our streets – far fewer three-litre bottles sticking out of litter or recycling bins. But in terms of official figures, it’s much harder to say at this stage just how effective the policy has been.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s public health agency says a “robust and comprehensive” evaluation is needed before any judgements can be drawn.

NHS Health Scotland says the year-old initiative could “improve our relationship with alcohol in Scotland…But MUP in the form we have it in Scotland hasn’t been put in place anywhere before”.