Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Abbi Garton-Crosbie

Public health expert rubbishes Tory claim minimum alcohol pricing 'isn't working'

Public health expert rubbishes Tory claim minimum alcohol pricing 'isn't working'

A PUBLIC health expert has rubbished a Tory MSP's claim that minimum alcohol pricing isn’t working in Scotland.

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a base price for each unit of alcohol sold - driving up the price of cheaper booze.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Tory MSP for Glasgow region, claimed during a meeting of the health committee in Holyrood that the scheme was failing and that the most vulnerable were cutting back on food to afford the high prices.

However, Professor Petra Meier told MSPs that she didn’t agree with his assessment of the policy and said it was one of the “stronger policies” the Scottish Government has come up with without full control of tax powers and alcohol duties.

It comes as Public Health Scotland (PHS) published its latest report looking at how the Government’s alcohol strategy is being delivered.

The health agency found that alcohol consumption levels remained similar to 2020, with 9.4 litres of pure alcohol sold per adult. This is the equivalent of 18.1 units per adult per week – way above the weekly guidline of 14 units.

It also found that on average 23 people in Scotland die every week due to alcohol.

Speaking in Holyrood on Tuesday, Gulhane referenced the PHS release and said it presents evidence the policy of minimum pricing is “not working”.

He continued: “What is your response to this and how can we ensure that the impact of alcohol is not felt so greatly in those areas with the most deprivation?”

Meier, director of the SIPHER Consortium which analyses the long term impact of health policies, said that she didn’t agree with Gulhane’s assessment.

She added: “It's working on the whole. There are some very heavy drinkers who may not have the opportunity to cut down their drinking who then substitute for food spending. I don't think that's a problem of the price you put on alcohol, I think it's a problem on the health services that haven't been available.

“The addiction services have had major cutbacks during Covid, they have been virtually inaccessible unless you were able to join online groups and make do with things like alcoholics anonymous online and so on.”

Meier added that for very dependent drinkers the policy “hasn't had many detrimental effects, but there has been some substitution with big purchases”.

The public health expert later added: “Going back to cheap alcohol is certainly not something that I would advocate.

"I think minimum pricing is one of the stronger policies that the Scottish Government has come up with, in the absence of having full tax controls, obviously having a very sensible duty system is another thing that you would do if you were an independent country but failing that, minimum pricing ... is very important.”

The latest PHS report analysed the population-level consumption of alcohol through retail sales estimates. While the figures remained at the same level at 2020, this is the lowest level seen in Scotland from 1994 onwards.

Professor Petra Meier was giving evidence to the health committee in Holyrood

During 2021, when alcohol sales through bars and restauraunts was restricted at certain points due to Covid-19, 85% of alcohol sales were made through supermarkets and off licences. Pre-pandemic this was 72% (2019), while in 2020 it was 90% of all sales.

Alcohol-specific death rates also increased between 2019 and 2020, driven by deaths amongst men aged 45 years and over. Alcohol-specific death and related hospital stays remain twice as high for men as women.

Vicki Ponce Hardy, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said that the annual report shows “significant inequalities persist” in alcohol consumption and the harm it causes.

She added: "The most recent survey data show that almost a quarter (24%) of adults in Scotland still drink more than the recommended low risk weekly drinking guideline.

“Among those exceeding the guideline, it’s those in the lowest income group who are likely to consume the most. In the 10% most deprived areas of Scotland, rates of alcohol-specific death were nearly five times higher, and alcohol-related hospital stays were nearly eight times higher, than in the 10% least deprived areas.

"Like all harm caused by alcohol, this is preventable. Public Health Scotland will continue to monitor and evaluate Scotland’s alcohol strategy, to gauge progress and understand what works to reduce the harm alcohol causes.”

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.