ALCOHOL sales in Scotland fell to an all-time low in the year that minimum pricing came into force.

The latest data, for 2018, reveals that adults in Scotland are now consuming less alcohol than they have since records began in 1994.

Teenagers are also less likely than ever to have tried alcohol, with the percentage of 15-year-olds who say they have had a drink even once in their lifetime dipping below 70 per cent for the first time in 24 years.

Among 13-year-olds the figure was less than 30% for the first time on record, backing up mounting evidence worldwide that young people are turning their backs on booze.

Analysis: What does the drop in sales tell us about minimum pricing? 

However, adult drinkers north of the Border are continuing to significantly exceed the recommend guidelines on units, and overall alcohol intake in Scotland remains well above that of England and Wales.

According to today's report by the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland's Alcohol Strategy (MESAS), average alcohol consumption per adult was 19 units per person per week, compared to the recommended maximum of 14 units.

The excess is equivalent to around three small glasses of wine or three bottles of beer.

In 2018, adults in Scotland also drank the equivalent of an extra 0.8 litres of pure alcohol each, on average, compared to adults in England and Wales.

It is unclear exactly how strong the role of minimum pricing was on reducing alcohol consumption as this did not take effect until almost halfway through 2018, on May 1.

It set a minimum tariff of 50 pence per unit of alcohol, raising the price of a three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack cider from less than £4 to at least £11.25, while a standard-sized bottle of Famous Grouse whisky went from around £12 to £14.

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Campaigners say there is anecdotal evidence from the trade industry that the products specifically targeted by the policy, such as high-strength ciders, have experienced a decline in sales as a result.

But the data also shows that the number of adults in Scotland not drinking at all is continuing to increase.

However, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said this was unlikely to explain the trend since England and Wales - where there are similar patterns of more teetotal adults and falling youth drinking - has experienced a rise in alcohol sales.

She added: “Since the introduction of minimum-unit pricing we have been hearing anecdotal evidence of positive effects of the increased price on alcohol consumption.

"For example, shopkeepers and frontline workers have reported people switching drinks, moving away from cheap, high strength white cider, as a result of which many shops are no longer stocking these products.

"If people are spending the same amount of money on other types of drinks they will be consuming fewer units of alcohol overall.

"There is every reason to remain confident that, as with the smoking ban, this progressive policy will significantly improve our health and the well-being of our families and communities."

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Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's cancer prevention expert at Edinburgh University, said the decline in sales was welcome but urged policymakers to consider additional measures to steer people away from alcohol.

She said: "The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of cancer.

"Measures such as minimum unit pricing can play an important role in reducing alcohol consumption, particularly among harmful and hazardous drinkers. But further action needs to be taken to increase public understanding of the dangers of drinking alcohol.

"Serious consideration should also be given to introducing clear information about the health risks on product labels."

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Lewis Morrison said the figures were a "promising start" for minimum pricing legislation, which was stymied by a decade-long court battle by industry opponents.

Dr Morrison added: “The change is not groundbreaking yet – nor did I expect it to be. But it is a big step in the right direction.

"I am a firm believer that minimum unit pricing is a good thing, and the evidence suggest it will deliver significant public health benefits in the long term."

The public health legacy of Scotland's troubled relationship with alcohol was also clear, with alcohol-related deaths continuing to climb as they have been since 2012.

Figures for 2017 showed that there were 1,120 deaths "wholly attributable to alcohol" - the equivalent of 22 fatalities a week, and "consistently higher" than in England and Wales.

Alcohol-related hospital stays were four times higher compared to the early 1980s, and people from the most deprived areas were more than eight times more likely to need admitting to hospital due to alcohol than those in the most affluent parts of Scotland.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the drop in sales meant Scotland was "moving in the right direction".

She added: "There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland and 683 hospital admissions, and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol harm.

"Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much harm to so many families."