There has been no impact on underage drinking as a result of minimum unit pricing in Scotland, a study by NHS Scotland has found.
Under 18s reported no change in their behaviour or ability to obtain alcohol despite potential price rises.
The study is the first to look at underage drinking in Scotland since the minimum unit policy was introduced in May 2018.
Interviews with 50 drinkers aged between 13 and 17 revealed there was no impact – positive or negative – on their consumption habits once the minimum unit price of 50p came into force.
The report states many of the drinks favoured by young people were either not affected by the price change or the increased cost was not a barrier to them accessing alcoholic drinks.
It found the price of alcohol was not seen as a key factor in their drinking behaviour and the interviewees said minimum unit pricing had not changed what they drank, how much they consumed and how they got their hands on alcohol.
NHS Health Scotland’s principal public health intelligence adviser, Jane Ford, said the study helped to understand the drinking behaviour of young people in Scotland – an area where little evidence exists.
Ms Ford said: “While the findings published today show that implementation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) was not perceived to affect participants’ consumption, there were no reported negative impacts on alcohol-related harms among the children and young people in this study.
“A number of further studies are due to be undertaken as part of our evaluation, which will assess the impact of MUP on protecting children and young people from harm.”
The survey was carried out by Iconic Consulting.
Its director, Ian Clark, said: “Overall, our findings suggest that the introduction of MUP had limited impact on the alcohol consumption of the children and young people participating in this study, and no reported impact on their related behaviour.
“This study provides an important understanding of the wider context surrounding those young people’s experiences with alcohol – and it is clear that price is only one factor in the often challenging life circumstances of young people who drink.
“While several of the alcoholic drinks popular with young people were already being sold above 50p per unit, where they did observe the price of their favoured drink rise after May 2018 – as was the case before the introduction of MUP – the young people reported being able to fund the additional cost.
“This research highlights that alcohol use amongst children and young people is a complex issue, influenced by a range of factors, which can change as they get older and their experiences and perceptions change”
Responding to the study, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Initial national sales data for 2018 has already shown an overall 3% drop in sales of pure alcohol per adult.
“This study of a very small number of young people found where they were consuming alcohol the products were priced above the minimum price of 50p per unit.
“We want to go further to protect our children and young people from alcohol harms and that is why I intend this year to consult on potential mandatory restrictions on alcohol marketing and advertising.