Debate over minimum floor pricing reignites

The debate over the effectiveness of minimum floor pricing in bottle shops has been reignited by new evidence from Scotland that shows it has led to a 13% reduction in alcohol-related deaths.

In 2018 the Scottish government set a minimum price of 50 pence (90 cents) per unit of alcohol sold anywhere with a license, with cheap beers and ciders seeing the biggest increases. The average cost of a unit rose by 18% with the introduction of the price floor, according to a 2022 study.

A new study from the University of Glasgow, published on March 20 in The Lancet, compared the number of deaths directly related to alcohol in Scottish and English hospitals before and after the introduction of the price floor.

Across 32 months of implementation, the study found a significant 13% reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption compared with its best estimate of what would have been expected had the legislation not been implemented.

This is equivalent to avoiding 156 deaths per year, on average. There was a corresponding estimated reduction of 4% in hospitalisations for conditions wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, equivalent to avoiding 411 hospitalisations per year, on average. 

The effects of minimum pricing in the Northern Territory

Three years after the Northern Territory implemented Australia’s first minimum floor price for alcohol, a review of the policy released last year showed that while it was effective in reducing supply of low-cost, high-alcohol products, drinkers had “shifted to other products” like hard spirits.

The NT government established a minimum unit price of $1.30 for every standard drink in October 2018, specifically targeting cheap cask wine, in an attempt to bring down rates of alcohol-related violence.

The first review conducted by Frontier Economics found:

  • The reduction in cask wine sales was partially offset by “an increase in sales of all other alcohol types, most notable for spirits”
  • There was a 25.8 per cent decrease in alcohol-related non-domestic violence assaults per every 10,000 residents in the NT, but “no evidence of any change” in alcohol-related domestic violence assaults
  • There was “no significant reduction” in alcohol-related emergency presentations across Darwin
  • The Covid-19 pandemic had a bigger impact in decreasing alcohol sales and alcohol-related assaults than the minimum floor price.

Will other states & territories follow?

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) supports the introduction of a minimum unit price in all Australian states and territories. It cites the World Health Organisation, which describes minimum unit prices as the most effective measure governments have to reduce alcohol harm.

However, while the West Australia Government’s Health Minister Roger Cook advocated for minimum unit pricing in the state in 2018,  saying retailers such as Aldi selling wine for as low as $2.78 a bottle represented a significant public health threat, there have been no significant moves to introduce the measures.

Retail Drinks Australia (Retail Drinks) opposes minimum unit pricing on the basis that it “unfairly discriminates against entire communities and fails to reduce alcohol-related harm in line with its policy rationale”.

Retail Drinks supports policy measures specifically targeting problem drinkers, such as a Banned Drinker Register (BDR) developed in consultation with local communities and industry stakeholders, rather than all-of-population or ‘one-size fits all’ approaches. Learn more

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Categories: Business