Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) welcomes the latest alcohol sales figures released by NHS Health Scotland today. In the past year, sales of alcohol have declined by 3%, continuing a downward trend in consumption; between 2009 and 2012, sales declined by a total of 8%. Off-trade sales have also fallen by 3% in the last year.
Whilst this decrease is good news, it should be seen in the context of longer term trends in alcohol consumption: Scotland still consumes 6% more alcohol than it did in 1994. It is also worth bearing in mind four key facts;
- Trends in alcohol-related deaths for the UK are falling, but there have not been the sustained falls seen in other western European countries.
- Trends in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland are falling, but they remain significantly higher than in England and Wales
- Alcohol-related deaths in the most deprived areas are significantly higher than in more affluent areas
- As prices rise, the amount of alcohol being purchased at very low cost of under 40p has halved since 2009, accounting for much of the overall fall in consumption. This shows the impact of low cost alcohol on overall trends and supports the need for action to reliably and effectively control the price of cheap alcohol.
There are a range of possible explanations for these developments, including changes in licensing laws, growing acceptance amongst the public of the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption and an increase in the delivery of Alcohol Brief Interventions by health care professionals.
However, the most significant factor in the reduction in consumption is likely to be changes in affordability during a period of economic recession. As well as incomes falling it is also clear that price increases since 2009 have considerable reduced the availability of very cheap spirits. (The proportion of spirits sales under 40p has fallen from 63% in 2009 to 25% in 2012. There is now virtually no spirits purchased under 30p per unit).
The need to address harmful alcohol use across the Scotland is still pressing. We need to continue to reduce consumption and harm and cannot rely on adverse economic conditions to achieve this. This is why SHAAP continues to advocate minimum unit price (MUP) as a policy which will selectively affect those products most linked with harm in a reliable and consistent way.
Minimum Unit Pricing is an evidence-based health policy that was included in the SNP’s 2010 election manifesto, and legislation to introduce the measure was passed without opposition by the Scottish Parliament over a year ago.. We are pleased that the Scottish Government, unlike the UK Government, maintains its strong commitment to implement MUP. We reiterate our call to drinks industry groups to drop their delaying legal action against the Scottish Government. MUP could then be introduced and this will save lives..