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Following Scotland being the first country in the world to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol, The British Medical Journal has now published a report assessing the immediate impact since the introduction eight months on.

The study collected data on the buying habits of over 5,000 Scottish households and found that overall the price of alcohol increased by 7.9%. Off-trade alcohol sales reduced by 7.6% with the most substantial reduction of sales coming from beer, cider and spirits.

These figures equate to a reduction of one unit per person, per week, which is the equivalent of a 25ml spirit measure or half a pint of beer. The study did not consider on-trade sales.

However, the researchers concluded that in terms of immediate impact, it appears to have been successful in reducing the amount of alcohol purchased by households in Scotland and their “data” supports the introduction of MUP as a worthwhile policy option in other jurisdictions.

Many social commentators are quickly jumping on the “MUP bandwagon”, if there is such a thing, claiming that the findings of this report are concrete evidence that MUP is essential in tackling alcohol-related health risks. It should also be noted that despite alcohol sales in Scotland falling to their lowest level in 25 years, the number of alcohol-related deaths increased by 1% from 2017 to 2018.

It has also been reported that Scottish convenience stores are seeing a boom in alcohol sales. They claim this is down to the introduction of the MUP, as previously they were unable to compete with deals offered by the likes of Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, and they are now on a more level playing field with customers shopping around in search of cheaper deals.

Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit?

In other news, the Welsh Government has moved a step closer with its plan to introduce MUP from 02 March 2020 setting the price per unit at 50p.

The Welsh Health Secretary has commented that alcohol is a significant cause of death and illness in Wales and the introduction of a minimum unit pricing will make an essential contribution in tacking the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

The Welsh National Assembly will be debating on the introduction of MUP on 12 November 2019. It is set to publish research shortly on the impact of MUP on alcohol-dependent people who may switch to illegal drugs or psychoactive substances following an increase in the price of alcohol.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities has launched a consultation on their current liquor licensing laws.

Our analysis

We think it will be a long time before we can be confident or otherwise of Scotland’s minimum unit pricing, given that alcohol-related deaths continue to increase and the sale of alcohol is reducing.

It appears MUP is here to stay regardless and with Wales moving forward with introducing the measure, this will only pressurise England to follow suit and it will surely be on the government’s agenda soon.

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