Alcohol sales fall to 25-year low

Early indication that minimum unit pricing having positive effect

Wednesday 19th June 2019

Alcohol sales have fallen to the lowest level in 25 years in an early indication that alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), introduced just over a year ago, could be bearing fruit.

The average Scottish adult purchased just under ten litres of pure alcohol over 2018 – equivalent to 19 units a week – research by public health agency NHS Health Scotland found.

This was a 3% fall from the previous year and represented the lowest level since 1994.

Charity Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomed the results but called for extra measures to control availability and clamp down on marketing.

While consumption remained higher than south of the border, the gap between Scotland, and England and Wales, is now the smallest it has been since 2002.

In England and Wales 9.1 litres were sold per adult – an increase on the previous years.

Introduced in May 2018 following a lengthy campaign that was very nearly derailed by legal challenges, MUP set a minimum price of 50p per unit.

At the time, the policy was unique because it linked price to alcohol content – not the type of drink.

Speaking to healthandcare.scot in May, Alison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland explained the legislation was aimed at “really cheap strong alcohol that is favoured by people who are drinking very high levels.”

“MUP is estimated to cost the average moderate drinker £2 a year, which is completely imperceptible to most of us,” she said. “…It doesn’t affect the cost of drinks in pubs and restaurants because they were already well above the minimum unit price.”

Today’s report represents the first major test of the policy, because it covers the total volume of alcohol sold across all products.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “This is a promising start following our world-leading action to introduce minimum unit pricing, and with this 3% fall we are moving in the right direction.

“There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families.”

Speaking today, Ms Douglas said: “These initial figures on the amount of alcohol sold per head of population since MUP was introduced are hugely encouraging and suggest the policy is having a real impact on the way we drink in Scotland.

“A reduction of 3% in average consumption in 2018 is great news for Scotland’s health and is in contrast to England and Wales, who don’t have MUP, where consumption increased.

“There is every reason to remain confident that, as with the smoking ban, this progressive policy will significantly improve our health and the well-being of our families and communities.

“But, as with tobacco control, one measure alone will not be sufficient; Scots are still drinking enough for every adult to exceed the drinking guidelines by a third every week of the year. We need to build on minimum pricing with action to control availability and restrict marketing if we are to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol for good.”