NHS Scotland have published updated sales figures for alcohol in Scotland. These suggest that a decline in alcohol consumption since the mid-2000s has started to reverse. Between 2005 and 2013, consumption per head of population in Scotland fell by 9.4%. Since then, however, it has risen by just under 2%. We don’t know yet if this small increase is the start of a longer upswing, but it suggests that industry efforts to stem the reduction in drinking may be starting to have an effect.
The research also shows that Scottish consumption remains higher than England and Wales. In Scotland, an average of 20.8 units were sold per adult, per week in 2015. In England and Wales the figure was 17.4 units. Also, while estimated consumption is creeping up in Scotland it remains flat in England and Wales, still about 13% lower than in 2005.
The new data also highlights the dominance of shops and supermarkets in alcohol retail. 74% of all alcohol sold in Scotland was sold through shops or supermarkets, and this amount continues to increase while sales in pubs continue to decline.
This supports the evidence, outlined in a recent Alcohol Research UK-funded study, that drinking occasions are often spread across different locations, with home drinking not only providing an alternative to drinking in the pub but also a precursor to going out.
Recent international evidence has pointed to falls in overall consumption, and youth consumption especially, across the developed world. However, this data may point to a shift in trends. It will be important to understand what is driving this recent upswing: if it is related to the affordability of alcohol, as NHS Scotland suggest, then it strengthens the argument that pricing is critical in shaping consumption – and that if Governments wish to make the recent downturn sustainable, then they will need to fend off growing calls from industry for further tax cuts.