HAS minimum pricing of alcohol made a difference to Scotland’s drinking habits?

A report earlier this week suggests that for those who are dependent on alcohol, and who are the most harmful drinkers, it has not.

The study, by academic researchers for Public Health Scotland, found there was “no clear evidence” that it has reduced consumption among that target group.

READ MORE: Minimum pricing 'hasn't reduced drinking among the most harmful drinkers'

The policy was designed to increase the price of drinks like the high-strength white ciders that were sold very cheaply for just a few pounds.

Also, the high-strength lagers at above 7%, that were also cheap, would be jacked up in price.

Glasgow Times:

What the study found was that people who were dependent on alcohol found ways of getting the money they needed to buy it.

They may have switched to another drink like vodka or whisky to get the same amount of alcohol but they were still going to get it.

This should come as no surprise to anyone.

The report also found that people were spending less of what little cash they had on food and were getting into arears with bills in order to buy drink.

Again, this should come as no surprise.

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When someone is dependent on alcohol or drugs for that matter, they are going to do what they need to do in order to buy it. It is the nature of being addicted, or dependent on, a particular substance.

Making the substance more expensive is not going to lead to someone to say I can’t afford this, so I won’t buy it. It only makes their life even harder.

You can’t price out addiction.

Minimum pricing sets the lowest price that alcohol can be sold at 50p per unit.

Other studies looking at the impact on other categories of drinkers has suggested it has reduced alcohol intake.

But a look at the supermarket alcohol aisles today shows that alcohol is still cheaply available.

While the cheap, strong white ciders are not present the regular drinker but not identified as a problem drinker can still access a fair amount of alcohol for not a lot of cash

In one leading supermarket, there are several bottles of white wine for £5 and under.

For £4.75 you can buy a 750ml bottle of 11.5% wine. That is 8.6 units, or more than half of the recommended weekly limit.

Add another 25p and there are bottles of 12.5% red wine at £5, that’s 9.4 units.

There are still high strength lagers available with a four pack of Tennent’s Super at 7.5% abv for £7.50.

That works out at 13.2 units in total.

The report suggested some people switched to spirits, which are more expensive per bottle but higher strength.

The 50p per unit minimum means a 750ml bottle of whisky at 40% abv with 28 units can’t be sold for less than £14.

There are bottles of recognised brand on sale for exactly that price. Vodka is similarly priced.

The Scottish Government, on its website, states: “Minimum unit pricing is designed to impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the lower risk drinking guidelines.”

For the most harmful drinkers, according to the study, it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect.

It can’t be denied that the ambition behind minimum pricing is right and there needs to be action to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol in Scotland.

The policy has ambitious short-term aims, in the first five years to achieve 400 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year and 8000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions.

After 20 years, it is expected there will be 120 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year and 2000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions per year.

It was introduced in 2018 so by the end of next year those initial targets can be fully evaluated and it will become clearer if it is having an impact on the wider population.

The policy doesn’t bring in any extra cash to the government as it is not a tax and the Scottish Government doesn’t have control over alcohol duties anyway.

While you can’t price out addiction and alcohol dependency, you can treat it and more should be invested in services and treatment.

The policy was intended to make more people with a problem seek help with it.

What the study appears to tell us is that we need to be doing more to help those with the most acute problem.

We could still be putting in more money to encouraging the most harmful drinkers to seek help.

And more importantly, when they do commit to getting help, ensuring the right level of support is there and for the length of time they need to get their health back.

Reducing the many harms caused by alcohol is surely a policy everyone can support.

We just need to make sure we are doing it in the most effective way.