Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing experiment saved around 150 lives a year, research from Public Health Scotland has suggested.
A new analysis, published in The Lancet, found that the scheme was linked to a reduction of 13.4 per cent in deaths from alcohol consumption.
Minimum unit pricing (MUP) was introduced in May 2018 and compelled companies to charge at least 50p for every unit of alcohol to end the scourge of highly potent, cheap drinks.
Researchers analysed data from Scotland and England before and after the introduction of the MUP, with English records used as a control group.
There was a 4.1 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for conditions wholly attributable to alcohol consumption in Scotland, the equivalent to avoiding 411 hospitalisations per year, on average, the report found,
Dr Grant Wyper, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “The greatest reductions were seen for chronic alcohol health harms, in particular alcoholic liver disease, which were slightly offset with less certain evidence of increases in acute alcohol health harms.
“The results published today are therefore very encouraging in addressing this inequality, and the overall scale of preventable harm which affects far too many people.”
However, researchers noted that the pandemic had impacted hospital attendance since 2020, which increased the uncertainty of the findings.
In recent years, alcohol death levels have hit record highs, which may also be skewing the results.
A study last year from the universities of Newcastle and Sheffield, found “no clear evidence” the MUP dissuaded alcoholics from drinking.
In some cases, heavy drinkers spent up to 29 per cent less on food, utility bills and other items, according to data collected from 100,000 participants.
In the new study, researchers found an increase in the rate of deaths and hospitalisations due to short-term conditions but it did not reach statistical significance.
However, they admitted that one reason for a rise could be that some people may have reduced their spending on food or lowered their food intake due to the financial pressures of the policy being implemented, which might have led to faster intoxication or poisoning.
Experts were divided on whether the research conclusively showed a benefit.
Commenting on the research, Dr Adam Jacobs, senior director, biostatistical science at Premier Research, said: “It is plausible that the MUP policy would bring down deaths and hospitalisations due to alcohol consumption, but I don’t think this paper shows it convincingly.”
Prof John Holmes, director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield, said: “This study provides the clearest evidence to date that minimum unit pricing (MUP) has reduced the harm caused by alcohol in Scotland.
“It is unlikely we would see the large effects reported in this study if heavier drinkers had not reduced their consumption.”
The Scottish parliament must vote before May 1 next year on whether or not MUP will continue.
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