Media attention has returned to the issue of minimum pricing this week following new research from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group published in the Lancet (pdf here). The study states minimum pricing would have negligible effects on low income moderate drinkers’ alcohol consumption and spending, therefore would not 'punish responsible drinkers', as has been claimed.
Whilst the paper accepts that harmful drinkers on the lowest incomes would be most affected by minimum pricing, it emphasises this group experiences the greatest levels of alcohol harm. Low income harmful drinkers were projected to reduce their alcohol consumption by nearly 300 units per year under a 45 pence minimum price, which would significantly reduce health inequalities and save hundreds of lives a year.
In contrast it states low income moderate drinkers do not buy much very cheap alcohol - on average less than one unit a week under 45p, so would be very minimally affected.
Professor Petra Meier, Director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, stated:
“Our study finds no evidence to support the concerns highlighted by Government and the alcohol industry that minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers on low incomes. Instead, minimum unit pricing is a policy that is targeted at those who consume large quantities of cheap alcohol."
Last week the Government announced its proposals for the implementation of a 'below cost ban' following its u-turn over minimum pricing in 2013 (see here for the Government's 40p MUP infographics released in 2012). However Sheffield have said a below cost ban would be "approximately 40 to 50 times smaller than the estimated impact of a 45p MUP", whilst Alcohol Concern's Eric Appleby said it would be "close to impossible to implement".
Scotland's legal battle continues...
Meanwhile in Scotland the Government are facing the latest challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in its bid to introduce minimum pricing. Court action began last week at the Court of Session in Edinburgh to appeal last year's ruling in favour of MUP.
However as the Herald reports, even if ministers win this round the fight is likely to go to the Supreme Court in England, where cases are being listed for 2015. The SWA is also prepared to go to the European Court of Justice.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, believes the SWA is “determined to drag out the legal process for as long as possible. In doing so, it follows in the footsteps of the tobacco industry, which spent decades delaying the implementation of public health policies that were subsequently proven to save lives.”