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WHO report backs minimum pricing for alcohol introduced in Wales

21 Jun 2022 3 minute read
Photo by rawpixel from Pixabay

Introducing minimum pricing for alcohol can protect heavy drinkers and reduce harm to people’s health, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

A minimum unit price (MUP) of 50p per unit was introduced in Wales in March 2020. Vaughan Gething, the health minister at the time, said it would tackle “harmful and damaging” drinking of cheap, strong alcohol.

Experts behind the WHO study said evidence shows that taxing alcohol and controlling prices could prevent deaths and prevent long-term sickness linked to drink.

In England, the UK Government has said there are no plans to introduce a minimum price, though it is keeping the issue under review.

Research from Newcastle University and published in the Lancet medical journal last year found that alcohol sales fell by almost 8% after the policy was introduced in Scotland in 2018.

In its new study, the WHO office for Europe said alcohol is responsible for almost one million deaths in the region each year.

Globally, the European region has the highest share of deaths caused by alcohol consumption – about 12% of male and 8% of female deaths, it said.

While European countries do have some form of alcohol tax in place, “these taxes are often implemented in a way that is unlikely to be beneficial to public health”, the study added.

For example, the vast majority of countries do not adjust their alcohol taxes for inflation, meaning that alcohol gets cheaper over time.

When the change was announced in Wals, health minister Vaughan Gething said that the health benefits was “so clear”.

“It’s not about making alcohol unaffordable, it is addressing the most harmful and damaging alcohol – high-strength, cheap alcohol. We have already seen the impact it will have,” he said in March 2020.

“And I really do think, in a few years’ time, people in Wales will wonder why there was ever a fuss about doing this.”

‘Reduced health-care costs’

The new report said minimum unit prices affect the cost of cheap, high-strength alcohol because they are linked to the alcohol content of a drink.

The report argues that by reducing the price of cheap drinks, MUP encourages consumers and producers to favour lower-strength products.

This is especially important for heavier drinkers, with WHO arguing there is strong evidence that they will reduce their drinking when alcohol becomes more expensive.

The report said: “Alcohol harm is concentrated in heavier drinkers, particularly those from lower socioeconomic groups.

“Minimum pricing policies can effectively target these drinkers and consequently can reduce health inequalities…

“There are various sources of evidence on the impact of minimum pricing, including from systematic reviews, modelling studies and evaluations of real-life implementation scenarios.

“These demonstrate reductions in alcohol consumption and harms following the introduction of minimum pricing measures.”

The report acknowledges that minimum prices are likely to increase revenue for alcohol producers and retailers and, to a lesser extent, reduce government tax revenue.

“These losses, however, are likely to be offset by other economic gains, such as reduced health-care costs and greater economic productivity,” it said.

It argued that there is potential for minimum prices to be used in combination with taxation to reduce harm and increase government tax revenue.

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