Minimum alcohol pricing 50 times more effective

Introducing minimum unit pricing on alcohol in England would be up to 50 times more effective in tackling problems caused by cheap drink than the government’s recent policy of a ban on below cost selling, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield.

The research conducted by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) which is published today (October 1) in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), shows that the previous proposed policy of setting a minimum unit price would have a 40-50 times greater effect, particularly among harmful drinkers.

The group says increasing the price of alcohol has been shown to be effective in reducing both consumption levels and harms however plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol of between 40p and 50p per unit were shelved in 2013.

Professor Alan Brenann, Professor of health economics and decision modelling, from the School of Health and Related Research, said: “The additional analyses suggest that the relative scale of impact between a ban on below cost selling and a minimum unit price are robust to a variety of assumptions and uncertainties.

“Despite some study limitations we found that a minimum unit price of 45p would be expected to have 40-50 times larger reductions in consumption and health harms.” 

Apparently, researchers at the University of Sheffield have compared the effects on public health in England of these two alcohol policies.

Using a mathematical model alongside General Lifestyle Survey data, researchers estimated changes in alcohol consumption, spending, and related health harms among adults for 2014-15.

The population was split into subgroups of moderate, hazardous, and harmful drinkers, according to weekly consumption guidelines.

The team estimate that below cost selling will increase the price of just 0.7% of alcohol units sold in England, whereas a minimum unit pricing of 45p would increase the price of 23.2% of units sold.

Below cost selling will reduce harmful drinkers’ mean annual consumption by just 0.08%, around three units per year, compared with 3.7% or 137 units per year for a 45p minimum unit price (an approximately 45 times greater effect).

The ban on below cost selling has a small effect on population health saving an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospital per year. In contrast, a 45p minimum unit price is estimated to save 624 deaths and 23,700 hospital admissions.

Furthermore, most of the harm reductions (for example, 89% of estimated deaths saved per year) are likely to occur in the 5.3% of people who are harmful drinkers because they buy the greatest share of cheap alcohol.

The study was carried out by one of the MRC Addiction Research Clusters, which were established as part of a strategic means to bring together experts across institutions to address themes in addiction and substance misuse, using a multidisciplinary approach. The overall aim of the clusters was to deliver research into interventions and into policy and practice, towards improving public health.