Policy actions  1 of 4

Minimum unit pricing

We implemented a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol on 1 May 2018. This will save lives, reduce hospital admissions and, ultimately, have positive impacts across the whole health system in Scotland and for wider society.

Minimum unit pricing set a floor price for a unit of alcohol, currently 50 pence per unit. This means alcohol can’t legally be sold for lower than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the higher the minimum unit price.

Minimum unit pricing is not a tax; it is a targeted way of making sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price.

As stated in the 2018 Alcohol Framework, we will review the 50 pence price level after two full years of operation, in May 2020. 

Mygov.scot provides minimum unit pricing guidance for retailers and businesses.

This page contains more information on the following aspects of minimum unit pricing:

Benefits of minimum unit pricing

Modelling estimates that over the first five-year period of minimum unit pricing there will be:

  • 400 fewer alcohol-related deaths
  • 8,000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions

At full effect, after 20 years, there will be:

  • 120 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year
  • 2,000 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions per year

Minimum unit pricing is designed to impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the lower risk drinking guidelines. Those who drink within the lower risk guidelines should only be marginally affected because they consume a small amount of alcohol and don’t tend to buy as much of the low-cost high strength alcohol that should be most affected by a minimum unit price.

There are further estimates from the modelling on the University of Sheffield’s website

Evaluating the impacts of minimum unit pricing

Minimum unit pricing legislation contains a ‘sunset clause’ which requires us to evaluate the policy’s effect five years after it comes into force, and to report on this to the Scottish Parliament.

We are funding NHS Health Scotland to lead a comprehensive, independent evaluation programme involving research in a number of areas including:

  • price and product range
  • alcohol sales and consumption
  • alcohol-related harm
  • economic impact on the industry

The evaluation programme seeks to answer two questions:

  • has minimum unit pricing contributed to reducing the health and social harms related to alcohol?
  • are some people and businesses more affected (positively or negatively) than others?

The evaluation report will be considered by the Scottish Parliament, and MSPs will vote on whether or not to continue minimum unit pricing.

Find out more about the minimum unit pricing evaluation on the NHS Health Scotland website

Background to minimum unit pricing

Evidence shows that as alcohol becomes more affordable, drinking and alcohol-related harm increases, and that one of the best ways to reduce the amount of cheap alcohol drunk by people in any country is by making alcohol less affordable. Affordability is one of the three World Health Organization ‘best buys’ for preventing alcohol-related harm, and is embedded into its SAFER initiative which aims to reduce death, disease and injuries caused by the harmful use of alcohol through using high-impact, evidence-based, cost-effective interventions.

Alcohol in Scotland was too affordable prior to implementing minimum unit pricing. In 2017, alcohol sold in the UK was 64% more affordable than it was in 1980. It was possible to buy the lower-risk weekly drinking guidelines amount of 14 units for around £2.50. With minimum unit pricing in place, this cannot be legally sold for less than £7.

In 2012, the Scottish Parliament passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 which allowed Scottish Ministers to introduce a system of minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The legislation was challenged in court by some parts of the alcohol industry, which delayed implementation, but on 15 November 2017 the UK Supreme Court confirmed the legislation was lawful.

Between 1 December 2017 and 26 January 2018 we ran a public consultation on minimum unit pricing to gather views on our preferred price of 50 pence per unit.

We concluded that a 50 pence per unit minimum price struck a reasonable balance between public health, social benefits and intervention in the market after taking the responses to the consultation and other factors into account. The legislation on the price was laid on 1 March 2018, complete with a final business and regulatory impact assessment,  and unanimously approved by full Parliamentary vote on 25 April 2018.