I worked in our local shop as a teenager at weekends and during Summer breaks and more than  30 years on can still recall the items that certain customers bought.

The brands of cigarettes they favoured, their daily newspaper of choice and the ones who bought a bottle of cheap vodka most days.

Secrets are not easily kept in small villages.

I was too young and full of teenage self-interest to dwell on this much and don't recall anyone else questioning their purchases or asking if they were okay. 

It would be a brave shopkeeper who did that I think.

However, such interventions by shop owners form part of the Scottish Grocers Federations' argument against minimum alcohol pricing.

"We can see if customers have a problem, we know them individually so retailers will try to discourage these people from drinking," says Pete Cheema, the industry body's chief executive. 

The Herald:

Dennis Williams, whose family has run a grocery store in Oxgangs, Edinburgh for 41 years, says it is something he's done many times.

"If somebody is really bad we will take them aside," he says. "We've done that genuinely to look after someone's health. We've helped lots of people - I'm sure lots of shops do that."

He says there are mixed reactions from customers. Some are quick to agree and pledge to "sort it out". With others, Mr Williams says they will approach family members to share their concerns.

"Through the years you build up a great relationship with customers and you know the boundaries. It doesn't happen overnight", says the shop owner who refuses to sell alcohol to anyone under 25.

In 2012 Scotland became the first country in the world to pass legislation for a new minimum price for every unit of alcohol sold.  The Executive Bill was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon MSP the previous year and the law kicked in on May 1, 2018.

The Herald:

Since then, similar models have been adopted in Australia's Northern Territory, Wales, and Ireland.

It was designed to target cheap booze, some of which was sold cheaper than a bottle of water and sold mostly in convenience stores, who are most likely to bear the brunt of this week's 30% rise in the minimum unit price from 50p to 60.

The Scottish Licensed Trade, which represents pubs, is supportive of a policy that encourages people to drink in the "controlled and safe environment"

However, Mr Williams believes MUP penalises "someone who likes a wee drink during the week".

"Everyone is feeling the pinch," he says. "Do they buy less food? Do they not have their electricity or gas on?"

It is something that was highlighted in a report last year by Public Health Scotland (PHS) which found that some of the poorest were cutting back on food and energy so they could continue to buy alcohol.


Increasing tobacco prices is widely recognised as the most effective way to reduce smoking rates and it is well documented that increased affordability of alcohol over recent decades has been a major factor contributing to the steady rise in drinking and ill health.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone involved in public health who is not in favour of MUP. However, research to date on the policy presents a very mixed picture, used as evidence by opponents that it is not working.

The Herald: Mininimum alcvhol price will rise by 30 per cent

The Scottish Government argues that it has prevented roughly 150 deaths and 400 hospital admissions per year on average. In 2020, the amount of alcohol sold per person in Scotland last year fell to its lowest level for 26 years.

However, the number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland rose from 1,120 in 2017, the year before MUP, to a 13-year high of 1,255 in 2021.

PHS's research found that MUP had prevented hundreds of deaths and hospital admissions, however, it said there was "limited evidence" that it reduced consumption among the heaviest drinkers.

The mortality rate also climbed by 9% over the same period, from 20.5 to 22.3 deaths per 100,000.

There is also some evidence that problem drinkers switched from strong ciders - which were among the products whose price increased most steeply as a result of minimum pricing - to spirits instead, particularly vodka.

Nevertheless, PHS said that the picture in Scotland would have been even worse without MUP and it's perhaps still too early to draw any definite conclusions.

Helen Chung Patterson, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, says people who drink at harmful levels, and particularly those with alcohol dependence, are a "diverse group who are unlikely to respond to MUP in one single or simple way."

Research so far has not found evidence that problem drinkers have shifted to using illicit substances but the head of a charity that supports people experiencing drug and alcohol addiction is not convinced and says more studies are required in this area.

Annemarie Ward, chief executive of FAVOR UK (Faces and Voices of Recovery) believes minimum alcohol pricing doesn't reduce problem drinking but pushes addicts from alcohol to cheap street drugs.

She says the fact that alcohol-related fatalities have reached a 14-year high raises questions about the efficacy of MUP.

The Herald:

She has asked the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is in charge of Freedom of Information Laws, to launch an investigation to "help the public understand" how the decision was reached by the government in light of conflicting reports.

She is among those in favour of a Public Health Levy, which would recoup the earnings made by the alcohol industry from MUP and could be ploughed into support services including rehab beds or other initiatives.

A scheme that placed specialist addiction nurses at GP surgeries in deprived areas led to faster referrals to specialist services and may now be expanded after it received positive feedback from those who needed it.

Responses from a Scottish Government consultation published this week suggest it has some work to do to convince the public that minimum alcohol pricing is achieving its aim, to reduce problem drinking among those who are most vulnerable to its harms.

Among organisations, 88% were in favour of continuing MUP and 79% supported an increase to 65ppu but this dropped to 27% and 19% (respectively) among individuals.

Most said that more efforts need to be made to tackle the root causes of problem drinking in deprived areas, including poverty and lack of opportunity.

The Edinburgh shop owner I interviewed believes the focus should be on educating pupils about the harms of alcohol but there is evidence that more young people are opting for low and no-alcohol drinks so our concerns should perhaps be focussed on the older demographic.

Experts say the normalisation of alcohol, so inextricably linked to socialising and celebrations, presents the biggest challenge in overcoming our unhealthy relationship with the demon drink.