Minimum prices for alcohol would save lives, research finds

Author: By Kunal Dutta

A minimum level of 40p per unit could lead to around 70 fewer alcohol-related deaths in its first year, as well as cut crime and absence from work, and improve overall quality of life, academics at Sheffield University found. A decade later, the study suggests, the policy could save the health service £160m and lead to around 370 fewer deaths a year. The report, published today, will be welcomed by Scottish ministers, adding weight to a proposal that is expected to form a central plank of the SNP’s forthcoming Alcohol Bill.

A 40p-per-unit calculation would see wine costing at least £3.60 per bottle, and a six-pack of lager costing £4.80. But the greatest impact would be felt among heavy drinkers of strong cider and supermarket-label spirits, who could incur prices of £10.50 for a 700ml bottle of vodka.

Ministers believe the measure could instigate a “cultural change” and tackle Scotland’s alcohol-related crime and health problems which are among the worst in the developed world. In 2008, 1,411 people died from alcohol-related illnesses in Scotland, more than double the 1978 figure.

The Scottish Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, insisted Scotland’s drinking problem needed a “radical” response. “It’s now widely recognised that excessive alcohol consumption across society, fanned by rock-bottom pricing, is one of the biggest threats to Scottish public health,” she said.

Critics have, however, been quick to attack the idea that the problems that lead people to drink excessively can be tackled by a price increase. “There is no link between price and irresponsible consumption,” said a spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium. “Minimum pricing will not solve the problem.”

Yet Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, described the plan as a “no brainer”, despite having initial doubts about the proposal. “The consumption levels across society have very worrying consequences for health,” he said. “All the evidence suggests that if you want to reduce alcohol-related harm, you need to look at price and availability, which are the key drivers of consumption.”

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