The volume of alcohol sold per adult in Scotland in 2018 has fallen to its lowest level since 1994, according to the first expert analysis of alcohol sales data, produced for NHS Health Scotland.
At 9.9 litres of pure alcohol per adult, the volume of alcohol sold per adult in Scotland in 2018 was 9% higher than in England and Wales (9.1 litres), the smallest gap between nations since 2002.
Results of the NHS Health Scotland Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme, published just over a year since Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing, also show a 3% fall in alcohol sales per adult in Scotland from the previous year. This is in contrast to England, where consumption increased by 2% over the same period. Scotland introduced minimum unit pricing (MUP) in May 2018, which has since pushed the price of alcohol sold over 50 pence per unit (ppu), most commonly sold in the off-trade. As a result, 87% of the total difference in per adult sales between Scotland and England & Wales in 2018 was due to higher off-trade sales in Scotland.
The total volume of pure alcohol sold below 50ppu in Scotland in 2018 (1.5 litres per adult) was less than half that sold in 2017 (3.1 litres per adult), and for the first time in the available time series, less alcohol was sold under 50ppu in Scotland than in England & Wales (2.3 litres per adult).
Responding to the news, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said:
‘This is a promising start following our world-leading action to introduce minimum unit pricing, and with this 3% fall we are moving in the right direction.
‘There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.
‘Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families.’
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, commented: ‘It is highly encouraging to see the drop in alcohol sales in Scotland to their lowest in 25 years.
‘When minimum unit pricing for alcohol was introduced in Scotland just over a year ago, it was a significant breakthrough for the public’s health. The MESAS figures show that the policy is beginning to result in less harmful drinking.
‘In England and Wales, where MUP has not been implemented, consumption has gone up, meaning levels of harm are likely to continue to rise. Wales will introduce MUP early in 2020 and it is vital that England does not get left behind.
‘The decrease in sales especially impacted off-sales while the trend in on-sales remains largely unchanged. This suggests that MUP is an effective way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families. To protect some of our most vulnerable communities, we urge the UK Government to follow Scotland’s example and bring in MUP in England too.’