More evidence from Canada that minimum pricing works

Doctors and health campaigners today welcomed new research from Canada which they say shows that minimum pricing has the potential to save lives and reduce harmful drinking in Scotland. The new Canadian research is published as the Scottish Government prepares to defend the introduction of minimum pricing in Scotland against a legal challenge brought by the world’s biggest alcohol corporations. A petition by the Scotch Whisky Association to get minimum pricing legislation overturned by the court will be heard in Edinburgh next week.

An evaluation of the impact of minimum pricing in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan just published in the American Journal of Public Health, has found that increased minimum prices linked to alcohol content introduced in 2010, have led to a significant reduction in the consumption of cheap, high strength alcohol products.

Professor Tim Stockwell, lead author of the study, said:

“As cheaper alcohol is preferred by young and heavier drinkers, both of whom are more liable to experience alcohol-related harms, price increases that target the cheapest, strongest alcohol products are likely to have significant public health benefits. Saskatchewan’s approach to minimum alcohol pricing is very similar to what Scotland is planning. We found their approach to have more than double the impact of a less comprehensive approach used in British Columbia where minimum prices were not linked to alcohol content.”

Key findings of the Canadian research reveal:

  • A 10% increase in the minimum prices reduced total consumption by 8%.
  • Bigger increases in minimum prices for stronger drinks resulted in proportionately bigger reductions in consumption of those products.
  • A 10% increase in the minimum price of beer was associated with a 22% decrease in consumption of higher strength beer compared to an 8% reduction in lower strength beers.
  • An increase in the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol was accompanied by a shift in consumer preferences towards lower alcohol content beer, wine and cocktails.

Welcoming the findings, Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

“This important research from Canada provides more evidence that minimum pricing works. It shows the real potential of minimum pricing to reduce the consumption of those who are at the greatest risk of harm from their drinking. Implementing minimum pricing to tackle high levels of alcohol harm should therefore be considered a crucial policy measure as the evidence shows that it can deliver additional health benefits that cannot be achieved in other ways. The global alcohol producers are following in the footsteps of their friends in the tobacco industry by seeking to delay this vital legislation that has the potential to save lives in Scotland.”

Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist, NHS Tayside said:

“These Canadian findings provide hard evidence that minimum pricing reduces overall consumption, with the biggest reductions in the strongest drinks and in the off-sales sector rather than pubs and restaurants. These are the outcomes SHAAP anticipated when we first advocated minimum pricing in 2007. Our medical and nursing members see the effects of these products on their patients on a daily basis. Professor Tim Stockwell describes Scotland’s minimum unit pricing plans as representing the ‘public health ideal’. We call on all responsible organisations in Scotland to support the Government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing in April 2013.”