Public Health Scotland (PHS) and The Lancet have published new evidence showing the impact of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP) on deaths and hospital admissions attributable to alcohol consumption.

The study estimated a 13.4% reduction in deaths, and a 4.1% reduction in hospital admissions, wholly attributable to alcohol consumption following the implementation of MUP. The study also found that MUP reduced deaths and hospital admissions where alcohol consumption may be one of a range of causative factors. The findings cover the period from MUP implementation up to the end of 2020.

This latest report builds on previous work that estimated alcohol sales reduced by 3% in the three years following the implementation of MUP.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomed the news. She said, “The whole point of minimum unit pricing is to save and improve lives; this research shows it is doing just that. The reduction in deaths of more than 150 per year is great news and significantly higher than was hoped for based on the Sheffield University modelling.

“It shows the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament were right to pursue this path-breaking policy in the face of fierce industry opposition. Today fewer families are grieving the heart-breaking loss of loved ones as a result.

“It is particularly heartening to see the positive impact is greatest for people living in our most deprived communities who for too long have suffered the most. Taking bold public health action has paid off and shown that population-level action can stem the tide of alcohol harm.

“The Scottish Government must now renew and uprate the minimum unit price. And it must act on alcohol marketing which also drives consumption and harm.”

Dr Grant Wyper, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at PHS, said: “Our study estimates that, following more than two and a half years of implementation, around 150 deaths, and around 400 hospital admissions, wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, were averted each year due to MUP. 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 findings highlight that the largest reductions were found for males, and for those living in the 40% most deprived areas, groups which are known to experience disproportionally high levels of alcohol health harms in Scotland.

“We know that those living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas in Scotland experience alcohol-specific death rates more than five times higher compared to those living in the least deprived areas. 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.”

Professor Daniel Mackay, Professor of Public Health Informatics at the School of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, said: “The methods we’ve used in this study allow us to be confident that the reduction in alcohol health harms we’ve shown is due to the introduction of MUP, rather than some other factor. This was important as the COVID-19 pandemic occurred towards the end of our study period and may have had an impact on alcohol-related health harms that was unrelated to MUP. Our main findings for the whole study period were consistent with findings from an additional analysis that focused on the pre-pandemic period only.

“In fact, we tested our main finding across a range of different scenarios and found the results to be largely consistent with our main finding, strengthening our conclusion that MUP has been effective at reducing the harm to health caused by alcohol.”

The MUP Evaluation Portfolio comprises of a number of research studies that are being undertaken to assess the impact of MUP across a range of outcomes, all of which have now been concluded. A report bringing together all the evaluation findings will be published in June 2023.

Read the PHS report

Read the PHS briefing

Read the study published in the Lancet