The results of a new study showing that a minimum unit price of 45p would reduce deaths and hospital admissions among high risk drinkers but have negligible effects on low-income moderate drinkers’ have been published in The Lancet today. Produced by the University of Sheffield, the paper provides the most in-depth analysis of consumer responses to changes in alcohol prices yet.

According to the authors’ predictive models, minimum pricing is estimated to have the most pronounced effects on the 5% of the population whose drinking is classified as harmful (more than 50 units per week for men, and more than 35 units per week for women). Three quarters of the total reduction in alcohol consumption resulting from minimum pricing would occur in harmful drinkers, with a predicted total reduction in alcohol-related deaths of 860 per year and hospital admissions by 29900 per year after the policy has been in effect for 10 years.

Harmful drinkers in the lowest income quintile (bottom 20%) would be most affected by minimum pricing, because on average around two-fifths (41%) of the alcohol they consume is purchased for less than 45p per unit, putting this group at greatest risk of health harm from alcohol. These low income harmful drinkers are projected to reduce their alcohol by nearly 300 units per year under minimum unit pricing, and estimated reductions in mortality due to minimum pricing are much greater for them than for any other group.

In contrast, the effects on low-income moderate drinkers would be very small, as moderate drinkers in the lowest income group buy on average less than one unit of alcohol per week below the 45p threshold. They would reduce their consumption by an estimated 3.8 units (approximately 2 pints of beer) per year, with an increase in spending of just 4p per year. Across the entire population, moderate drinkers are estimated to reduce their consumption by just 1.6 units (approximately 1 pint of beer) and spend just 78p more per year.

The study’s lead author, Dr John Holmes, said of the findings: “Policy makers need to balance larger reductions in consumption by harmful drinkers on a low income against the large health gains that could be experienced in this group from reductions in alcohol-related illness and death.”

Professor Petra Meier, Director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, and another author of the study, adds, “Our study finds no evidence to support the concerns highlighted by Government and the alcohol industry that minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers on low incomes. Instead, minimum unit pricing is a policy that is targeted at those who consume large quantities of cheap alcohol. By significantly lowering rates of ill health and premature deaths in this group, it is likely to contribute to the reduction of health inequalities.”

Follow the link for the full article and comment in the Lancet: ‘Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study