Charity calls for alcohol minimum pricing to be extended across UK

By Reevel Alderson
BBC Scotland's social affairs correspondent

Image caption,
Early evidence of the effects of MUP suggest it is helping cut alcohol-related deaths in Glasgow

A charity has called for Scotland's minimum unit pricing policy for alcohol (MUP) to be rolled out across the UK.

It followed the publication of evidence suggesting MUP has had a significant impact on drinking patterns.

Data presented at a conference in Glasgow suggested alcohol-related deaths in the city had fallen by 21.5%.

The policy was introduced in May 2018, but organisers said there was already an indication it was working - and should be more widely applied.

The research was presented at the British Association for the Study of the Liver (BASL) conference in Glasgow and was based on unpublished data from the city's Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (ADP).

The British Liver Trust said although the results came very soon after the law was introduced and the long term impact was still being studied, they nonetheless had important implications for MUP in England and the rest of the UK.

Scotland was the first country in the world to implement a minimum unit price for alcohol, following a 10-year campaign by health bodies.

It means licensed premises in Scotland cannot sell alcohol below a price which depends on the amount of alcohol contained in the product. It is currently set at 50p per unit of alcohol.

Dr Ewan Forrest who presented the results of the research at the conference said there had been a 21.5% reduction in alcohol-related deaths in Glasgow from 2017 to 2018 - from 186, down to 146.

Almost half (44%) the deaths in 2018 occurred before May when MUP was introduced.

Dr Forrest said: "Glasgow has always had much higher levels of alcohol-related deaths than other parts of Scotland.

"This latest information suggests that MUP may be reducing alcohol-related harm in those at highest risk.

"More time is needed to assess the effect of MUP on the rest of Scotland and to get a clearer idea as to how MUP might affect the rest of the UK."

The data from the ADP suggested the reduction in the number of alcohol-related deaths had been most marked in the most deprived areas of the city where the behaviour of consumers was more price-sensitive.

MUP targeted high-strength cheap ciders and spirits which saw steep price rises.

Image source, British Liver Trust
Image caption,
The British Liver Trust, which campaigned for MUP, has launched a "Love your liver" road show which offers people a free screening test

Prof Matthew Cramp, president of BASL, said: "This early evidence suggests that implementing MUP does exactly what it is supposed to - it is a highly targeted measure that improves the health of the heaviest drinkers and those experiencing the most harm from alcohol whilst those who drink in moderation continue much as before."

Pamela Healy, chief executive of the British Liver Trust which campaigned for the introduction of MUP said: "We are facing a liver disease epidemic in the UK and a major reason for this is that as a nation we are drinking too much alcohol.

"There is good evidence that interventions such as minimum unit pricing (MUP), targeted taxes and marketing regulations reduce alcohol harm.

"Alcohol taxes have been cut repeatedly in real terms. The government needs to look carefully at the outcomes from Scotland on MUP so that more lives can be saved."

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