CHANGES to alcohol prices are starting to have an impact on public health as deaths from drink fall, a charity has suggested.

A total of 1020 deaths in Scotland were caused by the misuse of alcohol last year, according to new National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures — a 10% reduction on the previous year.

The results cover the first full year since the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) laws in Scotland. These were brought in to address alcohol-related harm in the country, including the health toll, crime rates and the impact on children and young people.

Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services, said: “Since our records began in 1979, there have only been three other occasions where we have seen a reduction in the number of alcohol-specific deaths of around 10% or more in a single year.

“However, although an annual decrease of this magnitude is notable, further data will be required to see if this reduction continues and whether we will see a sustained shift in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland.”

Less alcohol was sold in Scotland's shops during the first year of minimum pricing, according to data released in January. Sales increased in England during the same period.

Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) says each of the 2019 deaths is one too many.

But it also says the decrease suggests the price measures are having a positive effect.

Its chief executive Alison Douglas said: “It’s really positive to see a fall of 10% in deaths from alcohol – the lowest figure since 2013. This is first full year of data since minimum unit price (MUP) was introduced in May 2018.

“The evidence from the evaluation of MUP so far has shown that it is having the intended effect on alcohol consumption, and now it looks like we may be beginning to see this translate into health benefits.

“The primary purpose of minimum unit price is to save lives and improve health. These figures are very encouraging, but it is early days and NRS have indicated that these data are within the normal range of fluctuation. That’s why the full and robust evaluation of MUP by Public Health Scotland is so important as it will provide detail on the impact of the policy over a longer timescale.

“Despite this good news, deaths from alcohol remain far too high. Each one is preventable and represents a life cut tragically short, with many more lives scarred by loss. We must do more. 

“Alcohol Focus Scotland believes now is time to review the 50p minimum price. The impact of the current rate is likely to have been eroded due to inflation during the eight years which have elapsed since Parliament passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012. 

“We also now have more information about how MUP operates in practice. These data can help us recalibrate the price to ensure we maximise the benefits of this life-saving policy.”

She went on: “MUP alone was never expected to solve Scotland’s alcohol problem. There’s still much more we can do to tackle alcohol harm. Reducing how readily available alcohol is and how heavily it is marketed could help to improve the lives of thousands of Scots by preventing problems developing in the first place.”

The change was brought in by the SNP government at a time when alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland were higher than those elsewhere in the UK.

The party's Emma Harper MSP, a former nurse, commented: “According to this data, minimum unit pricing is already saving lives in Scotland – with alcohol-specific deaths dropping by 10% since the policy was introduced.

“It’s absolutely clear that the SNP Government’s approach to improving Scotland’s public health and tackling alcohol abuse is working.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but there are still far too many families affected by the devastating impact alcohol can have on people’s lives, and there is still much work to be done to reduce alcohol-related harm and mortality in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government will continue working hard to tackle alcohol misuse but it’s time Westminster caught up with the SNP’s progressive policies, to ensure lives are saved across the UK.”