Home > Evaluating the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol in Scotland on cross-border purchasing.

Chung Patterson, Helen and Beeston, Clare and McQueenie, Ross and Soutar, Lynn and Giles, Lucie and Mackay, Daniel and Donaghy, Grant and Watson, Mairi (2022) Evaluating the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol in Scotland on cross-border purchasing. Edinburgh: Public Health Scotland.

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The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland in 2018 set a price floor for all alcohol sales made through licensed premises in Scotland, with the aim of reducing alcohol-related harm through reducing consumption. The Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) MUP evaluation portfolio comprises a number of research studies that are being undertaken to assess the impact of MUP. The MUP theory of change identified the potential effects of MUP across four outcome areas: implementation and compliance, the alcoholic drinks industry, alcohol consumption, and health and social harms. Those living in Scotland may purchase alcohol from retailers outwith Scotland at a level below the price floor, which could have an impact on the intended outcomes of MUP.

This report, as part of the MUP evaluation portfolio, aims to examine existing literature and evidence alongside new analyses in order to ascertain whether cross-border purchases are occurring at a level that may materially affect alcohol consumption at the population level or amongst particular groups in Scotland, or that may affect retailers.

Findings were consistent across these sources of evidence. Interviews with retailers indicated that cross-border purchasing was infrequent. Licensing near the border did not show a shift from Scotland to England following the introduction of MUP legislation. The interrupted time series analysis of off-trade alcohol sales data from 2013 to 2019 showed a small increase (less than 1.5%) in total alcohol sales in the north of England in the 12 months following implementation of MUP, controlled for sales in the rest of England and Wales. Analysis of online alcohol prices highlighted that, whilst it was possible to circumvent MUP price limits at the time of data collection by purchasing alcohol online, bulk purchasing of a considerable amount of alcohol would usually be required to make significant savings. Analysis also showed that large amounts of alcohol would need to be purchased to make significant savings, after meeting the costs of travelling from between 25 and 100 miles to the border. These results broadly agree with previous literature indicating that cross-border purchasing is more likely to happen at locations relatively close to the border.

Overall, the findings of these analyses indicate that, whilst some cross-border purchasing is occurring, it is unlikely to be happening on a scale that would significantly affect consumption at a population level nor materially affect other outcomes identified in the MUP theory of change. Further evidence may arise at a later date, for example as part of the study on Drinking at Harmful Levels.

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