Scotland's Alcohol Policy Might Not Be Having Its Desired Impact

In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to enforce minimum unit pricing on all alcoholic beverages, setting a minimum price of 50 pence, or about 65 cents USD, per unit of alcohol. They weren't the last, however, with Wales following suit in 2020 and Ireland implementing their own minimum unit pricing laws at the beginning of 2022. The law passed in Scotland did so with the intent of decreasing excessive alcohol consumption, especially targeting cheap liquors with a high alcohol content, per The Guardian.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicole Sturgeon, initially proposed the bill in 2012 but faced a five-year struggle against the Scottish Whiskey Association, who claimed the legislation "breached EU and global trade laws as it interfered with free trade and open border regulations" (per another report by The Guardian) but ultimately lost when the U.K. Supreme Court ruled in Sturgeon's favor in 2017, a year before the policy would go into effect. But a recent evaluation of the policy's impacts show it may not be working as well as hoped.

The surprising impact of the policy

Public Health Scotland published a report studying the impacts of the minimum pricing policy and found that many people in Scotland struggling with alcoholism didn't cut back on their alcohol consumption to save money after the price increases. Instead, they opted to spend less money on food, heat, and other utilities (via The Guardian). Alcohol Focus Scotland's deputy chief executive officer, Laura Mahon, said in response to the study, "we need real investment in recovery-oriented alcohol services to ensure the right people get the right support when they need it."

The minimum pricing laws have had an effect on the population as a whole, however. A 2021 study from Newcastle University found that Scotland's alcohol sales fell by 7.7% and Wales' sales dropped by 8.6%, per BBC. Mahon's response to the recent study also addressed the population at large, stating, "there have been encouraging reductions in hospital admissions from alcohol-related liver issues and 10% fewer alcohol related deaths in 2019."