The amount of alcohol bought in shops in Scotland has dropped after the introduction of minimum unit pricing, research suggests.
Off-licence sales analysis for the year following May 2018 – when the 50p per unit lower limit was introduced – shows a 3.6% drop in the volume of pure alcohol being sold per adult in Scotland, from 7.4 to 7.1 litres.
This is equivalent to a reduction of 26 units each annually – around 12 pints of average strength beer.
Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “This is a promising first full year of data, following our world-leading action to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP).
“The 3.6% fall per adult in off-trade sales shows we are clearly moving in the right direction, particularly when compared to England and Wales, where there was a rise of 3.2%.
“This sales fall equates to 26 fewer units of alcohol per person annually, on average, purchased from retailers.”
Despite the reduction, the sales equate to every adult in Scotland drinking around 27 bottles of vodka a year.
Sales of cider fell most sharply, by 18.6% per adult as prices rose 13p per unit on average to 56p.
Fortified wine – which had no price change from 60p per unit – was the only drink category to show an increase, up 16.4%.
The findings indicate an average rise in price of 5p per unit to 60p immediately following the minimum unit pricing change.
Spirits were down 3.8%, wine fell 3% and beer sales dropped 1.1%.
Beer and spirits both rose 6p per unit on average, to 57p and 58p respectively, while wine jumped by 14p to around 61p.
The amount of alcohol bought at off-licences in England and Wales increased over the same period, up 6.3% to 6.5%, but remains lower than Scottish sales.
South of the border, sales per adult rose 8.2% for cider, 7% for beer and 5.6% for spirits but fell 1.3% for wine and 11.2% for fortified wine.
The NHS Health Scotland report of studies it undertook in-house or commissioned found trends in the north of England were similar to those elsewhere in England and Wales overall.
It said this indicates cross-border sales are “unlikely to explain the difference” in Scotland sales compared to elsewhere in the UK.
Mr FitzPatrick added: “We have seen a change in the average price of alcohol, with the average price per unit rising by approximately 5p in Scotland compared to England and Wales.
“While the impact of reduced consumption will take a little longer to show, I remain convinced MUP is one of the main drivers in reducing alcohol harm.”
He urged the UK Government to bring in a 9pm watershed for alcohol adverts, or devolve the necessary power to Scotland, saying this would enable further protection from alcohol.
Lucie Giles, public health intelligence adviser at NHS Health Scotland, said: “This is the first time we have been able to analyse sales data covering the full year following the introduction of MUP and it is encouraging that off-trade alcohol sales fell in Scotland following its implementation.”
Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas said the drop is “great news for Scotland’s health” but called for further action to restrict alcohol marketing.
She said: “Even a small reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed in Scotland will mean fewer lives damaged by or lost to drink.”
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Lewis Morrison said he believes the change will soon help improve Scotland’s health.
He said: “This is a welcome development and the figures show we are clearly moving in the right direction when it comes to changing Scotland’s relationship with and attitude towards alcohol.”