Alcohol law has failed to cut deaths and hospital admissions say academics


SCOTLAND’S Alcohol Act has failed to make a significant impact on sky-high rates for drink-related deaths and hospital admissions, according to academics.

The controversial 2010 legislation introduced multi-pack pricing rules and meant that ‘buy one get one free’ deals in supermarkets and off-licenses were no longer allowed.

But researchers at Glasgow University only miniscule reductions in the number of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions.

The team, from the university’s Institute of Health & Wellbeing, conclude that the crackdown on promotions is unlikely on its own to bring about a substantial reduction in alcohol-related death and disease.

According to academics, the Act has had no significant impact on health in Scotland
According to academics, the Act has had no significant impact on health in Scotland

Campaigners for tighter control on alcohol sales say the SNP should act with greater urgency to introduce minimum pricing, a policy which is currently held up by a court challenge from the Scottish Whisky Association.

The researchers compared rates of death and the number of patients admitted to hospital with a “wholly attributable alcohol-related diagnosis” between 2001 and 2014.

The researchers conclude: “There is no evidence to suggest that the Alcohol Act was associated with changes in the overall rate of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland.

“Our results suggest that the implementation of the Alcohol Act in Scotland has not had a substantial short-term impact on alcohol-related health harms.

“Even though a restriction on promotions is important in creating an environment in which alcohol is sold responsibly, our results suggest it is unlikely on its own to substantially reduce the harm caused by alcohol at the population level.”

The data is set to be presented at a Society for Medical Decision Making (SMDM) conference in London next month.

The Act put an end to BOGOF deals
The Act put an end to BOGOF deals

The results are presented in the form of Incidence Rate Ratios (IRR), which compare the chances of something happening at any given time.

Before the Act was implemented, the IRR for alcohol-related admissions to hospital stood at 0.99. After the legislation was put in the place, the IRR for hospital admissions only dropped to 0.98 – a difference of just 0.01.

Even worse, six months prior to the Act the IRR for alcohol-related deaths stood at 1.00. But a year after the Act was put into effect the figure remained exactly the same.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Once again, this highlights the depressing issue of Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, not made any easier by the failure to implement Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) despite Parliament supporting the legislation almost four years ago.


“The SNP has been urged by all sides ever since not to become complacent and simply hope that the eventual arrival of MUP will resolve Scotland’s corrosive relationship with alcohol.

“ And yet there simply is no sense of passion or urgency from Ministers – it’s as if they have simply moved on in the hope that by saying there are dozens of initiatives underway, no one will ask why nothing is improving much at all.”

His comments were echoed by Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland – a national charity working to reduce alcohol harm.

She said: “Increasing the price of alcohol is the most effective step we can take to reduce consumption and prevent harm.

“Banning multi-buy promotions had a small impact on sales, however, progress has been constrained by the delay to minimum unit pricing caused by the Scotch Whisky Association’s legal challenge.

“A 50p minimum unit price will save hundreds of lives, cut crime and reduce the impact of alcohol on our NHS.”

When the Act was first introduced, Minimum Unit Pricing was set to be rolled out across the country.

But an ongoing legal battle between the government and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has delayed progress – meaning it has not yet been implemented.

A spokesman for the SWA said: “Minimum pricing is not the answer.

“The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling made it clear that minimum pricing is a significant barrier to trade in breach of EU law, with research for the Scottish Government showing that it would not reduce the number of people drinking at hazardous and harmful levels.”


Figures published last year showed that alcohol-related deaths had started to increase in Scotland.

When the Act came into force in 2011, the number of alcohol -related deaths in Scotland dropped from 1,247 to 1,080.

However over the past few years that number has been steadily increasing, and in 2014 there were 1,152 deaths as a result of alcohol.


A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While there are around 22 people a week dying in Scotland because of alcohol there is absolutely no room for complacency. We will introduce the next phase of our alcohol framework later this year which will build on the progress so far.

“Given the link between consumption and harm, and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy to tackle alcohol misuse and as such we remain committed to introducing minimum unit pricing.”