The Government is set to come under increased pressure to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol products here, following a new study today showing the measure in Scotland has been successful in reducing the amount of drink purchased.
The effects were greatest in households that bought the most alcohol, suggesting the policy "has achieved its ambition to make relatively cheap and strong alcohol less affordable, which in turn should positively impact public health over time", say the researchers.
In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce a national minimum pricing policy, according to the 'British Medical Journal'.
To test whether the policy is already having an effect, researchers led by Peter Anderson at Newcastle University set out to assess the impact of MUP on alcohol purchases in Scotland in the eight months immediately after implementation.
Their findings are based on shopping data for 2015-18 from 5,325 Scottish households, compared with 54,807 English households as controls, and 10,040 households in northern England to control for potential cross-border effects.
After adjusting for the number of adults in each household, the introduction of MUP was followed by a price increase of 0.64p (73c) per gram and a reduction of 9.5g in weekly shop purchases of alcohol per adult per household.
Reductions were most notable for beer, spirits and cider, including the own-brand spirits and high-strength ciders that the policy sought to target.
The price increases were greatest in households that bought the largest amount of alcohol - just under £3 (€3.40) per adult a week - and among the lower income groups.
It supports the idea that MUP effectively targets those most at risk of harm from alcohol, with a minimal impact on household budgets.
This is an observational study, and as such, can't establish cause, and analyses were restricted to off-trade sales.
But the authors point out that heavier drinkers are more likely to buy alcohol from shops than "on-trade" in bars and restaurants.
They also acknowledge that heavy drinkers, particularly male drinkers or those with no fixed address, are likely to be under-represented in their study, and they did not include any health outcome data.
Health Minister Simon Harris has said he will trigger the same measure here, which is provided for in the Public Health Alcohol Act passed last year, but so far has not set a timetable.
Alcohol Action Ireland has pointed to the ongoing availability of cheap alcohol here.