Alcohol minimum pricing

This section outlines the evidence base behind alcohol minimum pricing as a means for reducing the health impacts of hazardous alcohol consumption.

Quick links:

What is alcohol minimum pricing?
Why has legislation to introduce a minimum unit price been passed?
How bad is the alcohol problem?
Evidence of the harmful levels of drinking in Scotland
Frequently Asked Questions on alcohol minimum pricing


What is alcohol minimum pricing?

Alcohol minimum pricing is a policy where a minimum price is set for a unit of alcohol, below which it cannot be sold.
By introducing a minimum price per unit of alcohol, drinks with a high number of units which are currently being sold at low prices, will see the greatest change in price.

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Why has legislation to introduce a minimum unit price been passed?

Minimum pricing is being taken forward as part of a wider framework to rebalance Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. The Scottish Government considers minimum pricing to be the most effective and efficient way of reducing alcohol consumption and hence alcohol-related harm, and believes decisive action to address the affordability of alcohol is required.

Strong evidence supports the link between alcohol price, income, affordability and consumption, and on the direct link between alcohol price, income and harms. As alcohol becomes more affordable, consumption increases. As consumption increases, harm increases.
Alcohol is now 45% more affordable than in 1980. In Scotland, average population consumption increased by 10% between 1994 and 2011 and is 20% higher than in England and Wales [1, 2].
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How bad is the alcohol problem?

The impact of excessive alcohol consumption in Scotland is estimated to cost £3.56 billion each year, or £900 for every adult in Scotland. Not only does alcohol misuse burden our health service and police - it also has a considerable knock-on effect on our economic potential and on the families devastated by death and illness caused by alcohol. It is also estimated that between 36,000 and 51,000 children in Scotland are living with parents (or guardians) whose alcohol use is potentially problematic [1].


Evidence of the harmful levels of drinking in Scotland

There is extensive evidence showing Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol and Scotland’s levels of alcohol-related harms are much higher than the rest of Great Britain.
Evidence linking the price of alcohol to the demand for alcohol, along with evidence of the harmful levels of drinking in Scotland can be found in the 2012 Scottish Government Report: Framework for Action: Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol : Final business and regulatory impact assessment for minimum price per unit of alcohol as contained in Alcohol (minimum pricing) (Scotland) Bill .

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Frequently Asked Questions on alcohol minimum pricing

Which drinks will be affected?
Minimum pricing would not affect every drink – only those which are sold at below the minimum unit price, such as cheap spirits and white cider. It is not a tax. The extra money will go to drinks producers and retailers, not the Scottish Government.

Why should I pay more for my drink?
The more you drink, the greater the risk of health and social problems. Research suggests that higher prices can help to reduce consumption levels and, therefore, the harm to health and social harm. The damage that alcohol can cause not only affects the individual but society as a whole – there are costs linked to increased pressure on health services and the criminal justice system. Minimum unit pricing could help to reduce these costs, as well as benefiting employers who lose productivity due to the effects of alcohol on their employees.

How would you work out the effect of this on the price of a drink?
At the moment, a two litre plastic bottle of strong cider (15 units) sells for around £3-£4. Under the proposed minimum pricing scheme of, say, 50p per unit, it couldn’t be sold for less than £7.50 (15 units x 50p = £7.50).
A supermarket ‘own brand’ whisky or vodka sells for between £8 and £12. This would become £14.00 as a minimum price (28 units x 50p).

Is minimum pricing just another tax?
No. It would be more targeted than a tax because increases in price would be linked to the number of units in a drink, meaning those who drink more would pay more. A tax would not necessarily bring about the required increase in the price of alcohol as traders could avoid passing on the increase to consumers or sell alcohol below-cost.

Who would benefit from alcohol minimum pricing?
People who are drinking at potentially harmful levels are most likely to benefit from the effects of minimum pricing. Research from Finland shows the potential of higher alcohol prices to protect the most disadvantaged members of society against alcohol-related problems [3].

Will this mean people living in poverty suffer more?
Research shows that people on a low income or who are living in deprived areas are more likely to suffer from a long term illness as a result of drinking too much . People who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland are six times more likely to die an alcohol-related death than those in the least deprived areas [4]. Minimum pricing can potentially reduce levels of harmful drinking in these groups, meaning the risk of alcohol-related harm would be reduced.

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References:

  1. Framework for Action: Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol : Final business and regulatory impact assessment for minimum price per unit of alcohol as contained in alcohol (minimum pricing) (Scotland) Bill (2012) Scottish Government
  2. Robinson M, Beeston C, Mackinson D. Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland´s alcohol Strategy: an update of alcohol sales and price band analyses (2012) NHS Health Scotland
  3. Hertua, K. et al. (2008) Changes in alcohol-related mortality and its socio-economic differences after a large reduction in alcohol prices: a natural experiment based on register data. American Journal of Epidemiology.
  4. Alcohol Statistics Scotland (2011) ISD

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Updated 22nd July 2014