Scottish booze sales at record low since minimum price law

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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Alcohol sales in Scotland fell to the lowest level for almost quarter of a century last year, new research has found.

The total volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in 2018 was 9.9 litres – the equivalent of 19 units per person per week.

The figures from the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme were the lowest since recording began in 1994.

But deaths from alcohol are still on the rise, with the NHS Health Scotland report showing 1,120 deaths in 2017 were “wholly attributable to alcohol” - the equivalent of 22 people dying each week. The rate of deaths from alcohol-specific causes has risen for both men and women since 2012 – with these “consistently higher” than in England and Wales.

In 2017, just less than a quarter (24 per cent) of adults in Scotland reported drinking fewer than 14 units of alcohol a week – the amount classed as “low risk” – down from 34 per cent in 2003. Across the country last year, a total of 44.7 million litres of pure alcohol were purchased, with almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of sales made via supermarkets and off-sales and the remaining 27 per cent in pubs, clubs and restaurants. Although sales fell north of the border, the ­volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland was still 9 per cent higher than England and Wales for 2018.

It was the smallest difference since 2003, however, with sales per adult rising in England and Wales between 2017 and 2018.

A total of 23,494 people in Scotland were admitted to ­hospital with an alcohol-related diagnosis in 2017-18.

With some people being admitted more than once, there were 35,499 alcohol-related inpatient stays, each costing taxpayers thousands of pounds.

Despite a downward trend since 2007-08, rates of alcohol-related hospital stays remained four times higher than they were in the early 1980s, the report said.

People from the most deprived areas were more than eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of alcohol than those in the most affluent parts of Scotland. Meanwhile, the poorest parts of Scotland had alcohol death rates that were more than seven times higher than those in the least deprived communities.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the drop in sales was a “promising start” following the Scottish Government’s introduction of minimum ­pricing in May last year.

She added: “There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a ­family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families.”