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fatality spike How, despite minimum pricing rules, Scotland experienced drink-related deaths rise

Health experts in Scotland say the Covid-19 pandemic significantly lessened the impact of minimum unit pricing regulations targeting alcohol abuse

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Health experts there say the Covid-19 pandemic significantly lessened the impact of minimum unit pricing regulations targeting alcohol abuse. Photo posed: Depositphotos

Health experts there say the Covid-19 pandemic significantly lessened the impact of minimum unit pricing regulations targeting alcohol abuse. Photo posed: Depositphotos

Health experts there say the Covid-19 pandemic significantly lessened the impact of minimum unit pricing regulations targeting alcohol abuse. Photo posed: Depositphotos

The number of drink-related deaths in Scotland increased in 2020, despite the country having introduced minimum unit pricing on alcohol.

Health experts there say the Covid-19 pandemic significantly lessened the impact of minimum unit pricing regulations targeting alcohol abuse.

Sales of alcohol in supermarkets declined by 3.5pc after the regulations were introduced there in 2018. Campaigners are now looking for further increases to the cost of alcohol. Alcohol in Scotland currently costs 50p per unit, with health groups now calling for this to rise to 65p.

Dr Peter Rice, an addiction psychiatrist and former chairman of Scottish health action on alcohol problems, said minimum unit pricing did bring about positive results initially.

“We had a year of minimum unit pricing before the lockdowns came along, but the pandemic changed drinking patterns so much,” he told the Irish Independent.

“The results weren’t as much as we had hoped for. We saw a fall in sales of the drinks, which was our target, in particular, we saw a decline in cider. For taxation reasons it is very cheap in the UK, and it’s what our heaviest drinkers end up drinking. We saw a substantial fall in sales of cider and a fall in mortality of about 10pc in 2019.”

However, the number of alcohol-specific deaths increased by 17pc in 2020, with 1,190 people losing their lives. Mr Rice rejected claims that minimum pricing is “bad for business”.

“The small corner shops have actually benefited from this. It has given them a level playing field with the big boys. So the idea that this has been bad for businesses didn’t really ring true.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said public support for the policy has improved.

A survey carried out by Scottish health in 2019 said 50pc of the population were in favour of minimum pricing laws, up from 40pc.

“Some of the concerns and fears were from moderate drinkers about how it was going to hit them in the pocket, or what it meant for the price of a pint in the pub. That wasn’t something which was impacted, but we did see a reduction in consumption in terms of supermarket and off-licence sales.

“Unfortunately the success of the first year hasn’t been sustained, which we think is a result of people drinking more during the pandemic, which was driven by stress and anxiety related to the pandemic and the restrictions.”

Ms Douglas said there was no evidence to suggest there was an increase in Scottish people living close to England crossing the border to buy drink.

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“We had scaremongering where people said more will switch to drugs, or dependent drinkers will resort to stealing or not eating as they can’t afford alcohol.

"None have really come to pass. It is having positive impacts in terms of reducing consumption.”

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