NEW research has found that minimum unit pricing (MUP) has been linked to a 13% drop in alcohol-related deaths.

A study, published in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, suggests 156 deaths per year on average in Scotland may have been prevented due to the pricing policy on alcohol, which was first introduced in May 2018.

Over the two years and eight months since the policy was implemented, researchers found there was a “significant” 13.4% reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption compared to an estimate, using data from England, of the deaths that would have occurred had the legislation not been implemented.

Figures showed that there was a 4.1% reduction for conditions solely attributable to alcohol – equivalent to avoiding 411 hospitalisations per year, on average.

READ MORE: RMT members at Network Rail accept offer to end pay dispute

Reacting to the news, health minister Maree Todd said she was “very pleased” with the findings.

“We’re determined to do all we can to reduce alcohol-related harm which is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland”, she added.

“Minimum unit pricing continues to achieve its aim – cutting overall sales, particularly cheap high-strength alcohol, which is often drunk by people drinking at harmful levels.

“It’s also encouraging to see that the research has highlighted that the policy is having an effect in Scotland’s most deprived areas – which experience higher death rates and levels of harms from problem alcohol.”

Researchers also found that significant reductions in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption were greatest for men and for those living in the 40% most socio-economically deprived areas of Scotland.

MUP placed a minimum charge of 50p on each unit of alcohol.

The study was conducted by researchers from Public Health Scotland (PHS), the University of Glasgow, and the University of Queensland, Australia.

Dr Grant Wyper, the public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “The greatest reductions were seen for chronic alcohol health harms, in particular alcoholic liver disease, which were slightly offset with less certain evidence of increases in acute alcohol health harms.

“The findings highlight that the largest reductions were found for males, and for those living in the 40% most deprived areas, groups which are known to experience disproportionally high levels of alcohol health harms in Scotland.

“We know that those living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas in Scotland experience alcohol-specific death rates more than five times higher compared to those living in the least deprived areas.

“The results published today are therefore very encouraging in addressing this inequality, and the overall scale of preventable harm which affects far too many people.”

However, researchers found that MUP was associated with an increase in the rate of deaths and hospitalisations due to short-term conditions caused by alcohol consumption, such as alcohol poisoning, although these findings were not said to be statistically significant.

READ MORE: Avanti West Coast contract extended for six months despite disruption

Researchers suggested that one reason for this could be that some people may have reduced their spending on food or lowered their food intake due to the financial pressures of the policy being implemented, which might have led to faster intoxication or poisoning.

The report's authors acknowledged some limitations to the study, including that there was an impact on hospital capacity and attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic, which increases the uncertainty of the study findings related to hospitalisations.

The Scottish Parliament must vote before May 1 next year on whether or not MUP will continue.

Elsewhere, Dr Alastair MacGilchrist of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems said: “MUP was introduced to save lives, and this latest report shows it is doing just that. For every life saved, there’s a family, friends, and community not being forced into grief due to a death from alcohol.

“This new evidence demonstrates that taking action to reduce harms from alcohol in the face of fierce opposition from the alcohol industry is worth doing.

"In recent weeks, there have been far-fetched claims about the Scottish Government’s potential future restrictions on alcohol marketing, which is exactly what happened when the idea of minimum unit pricing was first mooted.

“However, there is no evidence of a negative impact on businesses, and instead retailers adapted quickly and effectively. Not only that, Scotland’s alcohol industry is thriving whilst MUP is narrowing health inequalities resulting from alcohol harms.

“This report should serve as an important reminder to whoever becomes Scotland’s next first minister: taking forward evidence-based measures to reduce the number of people suffering due to alcohol is the right thing to do.”