MINIMUM pricing has been credited with driving down alcohol sales in supermarkets and off-licences in Scotland during its first year after implementation.

However, sales of fortified wines such as Buckfast and ready-to-drink cocktails rose.

According to the report by Public Health Scotland, minimum unit pricing (MUP) could be attributed to a reduction in alcohol consumption per head in Scotland of between four and five per cent overall in the 12 months from May , 2018.

This compared to a 2.3% increase in alcohol consumption over the same period in England and Wales, where minimum pricing is not in place.

The scale of the reduction depended on how it was measured by researchers.

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For example, sales data from Aldi and Lidl was not available but could be estimated based on market share. Under this analysis, alcohol consumption fell by 4.9% in Scotland.

Comparing Scotland against north-west England – rather than England and Wales as a whole – resulted in an relative drop in consumption of 4.4%, or 5.3% when north-east England was used as the control.

The minimum unit price of 50p was intended to raise the cost of cheap high-strength drinks.

Cider had the biggest reduction in sales, with an 18.8% decrease in the first 12 months.

Spirits and beer experienced smaller decreases of 4.7% and 1.9% respectively, while off-trade sales of wine were up 1.3%.

Fortified wine – which was already expensive and whose price was unaffected by MUP – saw sales up by 5.7%. Sales of ready-to-drink and pre-mixed alcoholic beverages went up by 13.4%.

Jim Lewsey, professor of medical statistics at Glasgow University, said: “The methods used in this study allow us to be much more confident that the reduction we have seen in per adult off-trade sales is as a result of the introduction of MUP, rather than some other factor.

“Incorporating data from England and Wales into our analysis controls for any changes in sales in a neighbouring region where the legislation was not introduced.

“We’ve also been able to adjust for other factors, such as household income, sales of alcohol through pubs and clubs and of other drink types.”

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Lucie Giles, public health intelligence principal at Public Health Scotland, said: “The greatest relative net reductions were seen in sales of cider and perry, where the greatest increases in average price were also seen.

“There were smaller relative reductions in sales of spirits and beer – but as they account for a considerable share of the off-trade market, they make an important contribution to the reduction overall.

“These reductions were partly offset by off-trade sales of wine, fortified wine and ready to drink beverages, which this analysis found to have increased in the year post-MUP.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “It is clear that it is the high-strength, low-cost drinks, favoured by heavier drinkers, which we are drinking less of. This give real cause for optimism that MUP is having the intended effect.”

However, Ms Douglas said there was no room for complacency.

She said: “We can’t become complacent.

“In Scotland we are still drinking enough for every adult to exceed the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines by a third on every week of the year.

“For some of us the pressure of lockdown and social distancing may mean we are drinking more.”