The research, published in The Lancet, suggests 156 deaths a year on average in Scotland may have been prevented due to the pricing policy, which was implemented in May 2018.
Over the two years and eight months since the policy was implemented, researchers found there had been a “significant” 13.4 per cent reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption compared with an estimate, using data from England, of the deaths that would have occurred had the legislation not been implemented.
There was a 4.1 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for conditions wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, equivalent to avoiding 411 admissions per year, on average. The outgoing first minister tweeted about the Lancet study on Tuesday morning.
She said: “Looking back on my years in @scotgov this is one of the policies I’m proudest of. It was controversial and difficult, but I’m glad we persevered to overcome all the political and court challenges because, as this study suggests, it is saving lives.
“And an aside: if we were attempting to introduce MUP now, there’s every chance this UK Gov would be threatening to block it. So it should stand as a reminder, not just of the power of bold public health policy, but also the need to vigorously defend Scottish Parliament powers.”
Researchers also found significant reductions in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption were greatest for men and for those living in the 40 per cent most socio-economically deprived areas of Scotland. MUP placed a minimum charge of 50p on each unit of alcohol.
The study was carried out by researchers from Public Health Scotland (PHS), the University of Glasgow and the University of Queensland in Australia.
Dr Grant Wyper, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “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 per cent 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 socio-economically 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.”
However, researchers found MUP was associated with an increase in the rate of deaths and hospital admissions due to short-term conditions caused by alcohol consumption, such as alcohol poisoning, although these findings were not said to be statistically significant.
The report authors suggested one reason for this could be that some people may have reduced their spending on food or lowered their food intake due to the financial pressures of the policy being implemented, which might have led to faster intoxication or poisoning.
They acknowledged some limitations to the study, including there was an impact on hospital capacity and attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic, which increases the uncertainty of the study findings related to hospital admissions. The Scottish Parliament must vote before May 1 next year on whether or not MUP will continue.
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.”
Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, chairman of expert clinician partnership at Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap), described MUP as a “progressive policy”. He said: “Minimum unit pricing was introduced to save lives, and this latest report shows it is doing just that.”