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Impact of minimum unit pricing on alcohol purchases in Scotland

Researchers, led by a team at Newcastle University, have been looking at the impact of minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol purchases in Scotland. How much alcohol are people buying in shops and supermarkets before and after the implementation of MUP up to the end of 2018.

The study said overall it represented a fall of 7.6%, or 1.2 units - the equivalent of just over half a pint of beer or a measure of spirits, a week per adult on what would have been expected. The biggest fall was among the heaviest fifth of drinkers - the amount purchased by this group fell by two units. In terms of immediate impact, the introduction of minimum unit pricing appears to have been successful in reducing the amount of alcohol purchased by households in Scotland. The action was targeted, in that reductions of purchased alcohol only occurred in the households that bought the most alcohol.

They analysed the purchasing habits of 60,000 English and Scottish households between 2015 and 2018. Just over 5,000 of them were in Scotland. The English households were used as a control group to measure what would have happened if there had not been a minimum price in Scotland. While households in England increased their consumption slightly, Scottish purchasing fell.

Most compelling from a targeting perspective is that the price increases of alcohol were largest for the higher rather than lower purchasing households and among the lower rather than higher income groups. Figures show a striking contrast in purchasing trends between households in Scotland and England, along with clear incremental differences by household purchasing (doi:10.1136/bmj.l5274).

As highlighted by Mooney and Carlin “of course, in an age when complex public health issues such as harm from alcohol require whole system approaches, no single policy lever should be seen as a panacea, and MUP is still regarded in Scotland as one component of the overall strategy, as set out for example in the World Health Organization’s SAFER initiative.

John D Mooney, Eric Carlin, “Minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland”,

Amy O’Donnell, Peter Anderson, Eva Jané-Llopis,, Jakob Manthey,, Eileen Kaner, Jürgen Rehm, “Immediate impact of minimum unit pricing on alcohol purchases in Scotland: controlled interrupted time series analysis for 2015-18” BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 25 September 2019)Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5274  

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