The Scottish Parliament passed the Alcohol Act in October 2011. A key part of the legislation was a ban on multi-buy promotions — 3 bottle of wine for £10, for example. Now the first research into the effect of the ban has revealed that the amount of alcohol sold in Scotland fell by 2.6% in following year. In a report prepared by NHS Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow. the researchers found that the introduction of the legislation could be associated with a 4% drop in the quantity of wine sold in supermarkets and off-licences, almost 4.5m bottles. While there was little evidence to show an impact on beer or cider sales, the Act was linked with an 8.5% drop in the number of pre-mixed alcoholic drinks sold.
Mark Robinson, public health information manager at NHS Health Scotland, welcomed the results, pointing out that the findings showed that “the Alcohol Act has had the intended impact of reducing alcohol consumption in Scotland by placing restrictions on how alcohol is displayed and promoted. We know that some retailers responded to the multi-buy discount ban by selling individual bottles of wine for £3.33 instead of offering three bottles for £10. However, the incentive for people to buy more alcohol than they may otherwise have bought was removed and wine sales decreased.
“Although these effects are welcome, alcohol consumption in Scotland remains high and a large proportion of alcohol is still sold at relatively low prices. There is good evidence to show that the positive effects of the Alcohol Act would be enhanced by minimum unit pricing, which would prevent the sale of cheap, high-strength alcohol.”
Dr Jim Lewsey, senior lecturer in medical statistics at the University of Glasgow, explained that similar declines were not observed in England and Wales, where the Alcohol Act does not apply, and the possible impacts of other factors, such as changes in income and alcohol prices, were taken into account. “This provides evidence that the effects were associated with the Act and not some other factor,” he said.
The report was welcomed by Health Secretary, Alex Neil. He believed that Scotland was “moving in the right direction but our consumption and harm remain at historically high levels. It was always our intention to introduce minimum pricing alongside the multi-buy ban, which will save lives and reduce alcohol-related harm and the costs associated with it. We believe minimum pricing, agreed by Parliament, backed by expert opinion and now vindicated by this recent court ruling, is the most effective pricing measure to address the availability of high-strength low-cost alcohol.”