Minimum unit pricing report 'gives the lie' to 'exaggerated' Scottish whisky claims over policy impact

A leading alcohol harm reduction charity has accused industry bodies of lying and making “exaggerated claims” about Minimum Unit Pricing, after a new report showed the Scottish Government policy has had “minimal impact” on businesses.

Public Health Scotland, which has been reviewing the effects of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) over the first 12 months of the policy’s implementation, indicates that the economic performance of the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland has not been significantly impacted.

In response to the report, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said objections from the alcohol industry have been found to be false.

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“Firstly, it gives the lie to the exaggerated claims made by some in the industry about how MUP would damage businesses,” said Douglas, “such as the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) assertion that MUP could put at risk more than 250 jobs in companies supplying own-label and value brands.

New research suggests that industry performance post-MUP was characterised by lower volumes of sales but higher prices.New research suggests that industry performance post-MUP was characterised by lower volumes of sales but higher prices.
New research suggests that industry performance post-MUP was characterised by lower volumes of sales but higher prices.

“This research shows that, in practice, MUP has not directly impacted jobs or the viability of facilities or stores.

“Secondly, it tells us nothing about the additional profits which the alcohol industry has made from MUP.

“The Scottish Government estimated that it would increase revenue to shops and supermarkets by over £40m per annum, but was unable to estimate increased profits.

“We need to require retailers to provide this information as a condition of licence and to implement an alcohol harm prevention levy to ensure that instead of lining the pockets of the industry this money is used to prevent alcohol harm and to provide treatment and support for those already suffering.”

In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for the SWA said: “We agree with the Scottish Government that there needs to be an objective, independent and robust assessment of the full impact of MUP.

“This study is part of that overall evaluation, and we await the outcome of that evaluation before drawing any conclusions as to the effectiveness of the policy.

“Meanwhile, we continue to work in partnership with a range of stakeholders to promote responsible drinking and to tackle alcohol-related harm.”

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The performance of the industry was measured against the number of firms, employment, turnover, output value and Gross Value Added (GVA).

The research, commissioned by Public Health Scotland as part of a wide-ranging portfolio of evaluation work on MUP, was carried out by Frontier Economics.

The research suggests that industry performance post-MUP was characterised by lower volumes of sales but higher prices.

Interviews carried out across the industry found that the impacts of MUP on consumer and producer responses were perceived to “play out” quickly.

Almost all case studies felt that the major changes had already taken place by the first half of 2019, and that industry had “moved on” since then with MUP largely not a day-to-day concern.

“This report shows that fears of negative impacts of Minimum Unit Pricing on the alcohol industry have proved unfounded,” said Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP).

“Predictions from the industry of widespread economic and employment losses have simply not come to fruition.

“In fact, the alcohol industry is thriving, and evidence suggests that retailers adapted quickly and effectively to the pricing measures introduced.

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“There are many similarities between the alarmist debate now on plans to restrict alcohol marketing and those concerns aired when minimum unit pricing was introduced. It’s important that policymakers continue to take forward evidence-based measures that reduce the alcohol harms experienced by our families and communities.”

In December, the ONS published figures showing the rates of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK.

Overall, in 2021 there were 9,641 deaths (14.8 per 100,000 people) from alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK, the highest number on record.

Scotland and Northern Ireland had the highest alcohol-specific death rates in 2021, with 22.4 and 19.3 deaths per 100,000 persons, respectively.

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: “The findings in this report show that the introduction of minimum unit pricing has not had a significantly adverse impact on the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland overall.

“Previous evidence has shown that the introduction of minimum unit pricing has driven down consumption of cheap high-strength alcohol.

“Taken together this suggests the targeted nature of the policy is successfully lowering consumption of the alcohol most often consumed by those drinking at harmful levels without damaging the Scottish alcohol industry.

“Alcohol harms cause misery for not just the drinker but also for families, friends and the wider community, but we recognise that it is often a consequence of wider societal issues which is why we are doing all we can to help people get the support they need.

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“We are currently reviewing minimum unit pricing and have published our consultation on restrictions on the marketing of alcohol to help drive down hazardous consumption.”



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