Drink price control ‘cuts deaths’

Study claims minimum pricing cuts alcohol-related deaths

Alcohol-related deaths fell when minimum prices rose

Research published in Canada has linked the introduction of minimum pricing with a major drop in alcohol-related deaths.

The findings, within the journal Addiction, were welcomed by health campaigners.

But they’ve been criticised as “misleading and inaccurate” by the drinks industry, which has questioned the statistical basis of the research.

The Scottish government’s plans to introduce a minimum unit price are on hold pending a court challenge.

The researchers said an increase in alcohol prices of 10% had ended in a 32% reduction in alcohol-related deaths.

The Canadian study was executed between 2002 and 2009 in British Columbia, where alcohol could only be sold on to the general public in government-owned stores.

It means that , when drink prices rose, there have been “immediate, substantial and demanding reductions” in deaths wholly brought on by alcohol abuse.

The authors suggest increasing the cost of cheaper drinks reduces the consumption of heavier drinkers preferring them.

Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, said: “This study adds to the scientific evidence that, despite popular opinion on the contrary, even the heaviest drinkers reduce their consumption when minimum alcohol prices increase.

“It’s hard otherwise to provide an explanation for the numerous changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia.”

During the period under study, the law changed in Canada, permitting private liquor stores to open.

A 10% growth inside the collection of such outlets was related to a rise (2%) in all alcohol-related deaths.

This is the primary study to spotlight the results on mortality of alcohol minimum pricing, although the Scottish government has used previous research from the University of Sheffield to assert consumption of alcohol will be reduced if prices rose.

‘Saving lives’

It have been welcomed by health campaigners. Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) said it was further evidence that minimum pricing could be effective.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive, said: “It’s important evidence which shows that minimum pricing is saving lives in Canada and can save lives in Scotland.

“Increasing the cost of the least expensive alcohol through minimum pricing has the largest effect at the heaviest drinkers who’re most susceptible to alcohol-related illness and death.”

She criticised drinks organisations who’ve challenged the Scottish government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing.

MSPs passed The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 in May 2012, setting a 50p minimum unit price as a part of an effort to tackle alcohol misuse.

However, the govt. has undertaken to not introduce the measures until after the belief of the challenge brought on the Court of Session in Edinburgh by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and several other European wine and spirits bodies.

They argue that it breaches EU trade rules.

A consultation in England and Wales for a 45p minimum unit price ended on 6 February and similar plans are being considered by the Northern Ireland government.

An SWA statement said the experience of Canada, where there’s no minimum unit pricing, was different to that during Scotland.

It added: “The claims made by the Canadian researchers aren’t supported by official data from Statistics Canada which show alcohol-related deaths in British Colombia rising by 9% within the period, not falling as claimed.

“This compares with a drop in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland of 25% since a peak in 2003. This will suggest measures already in place in Scotland to tackle alcohol misuse are working.”

The chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Association (WSA), Miles Beale, also attacked the research.

“There’s not an easy link between alcohol price and harm,” he said.

“Consumption is likely to be relating to cultural factors and that the rise in price doesn’t impact on these significantly. The industry is committed to tackling problem drinking and its consequences, but minimum unit pricing should not do this.”