Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 14:52 UK

Alcohol minimum pricing fears 'unfounded'

Generic man drinking pint of lager
The Scottish government is yet to say what minimum price it wants to set

Fears that the poorest families could be hardest hit by minimum pricing for alcohol may be unfounded, health campaigners have claimed.

A study by an Aberdeen University professor found that people in all income groups buy cheap alcohol.

An alcohol abuse group said it hoped the findings would allay some of the concerns over minimum pricing.

The Scottish government's plans to set a minimum price for alcohol are opposed by the other main parties.

One of the claims made by opponents of the proposals is that those in the poorest families would be hardest hit.

But Professor Anne Ludbrook found little difference between those with the lowest incomes and middle-income households when it came to how much alcohol priced at below 30p a unit they bought.

The evidence shows that households in all income groups buy cheap alcohol
Dr Bruce Ritson

When drink was priced at 30p to 50p a unit, the amount purchased tended to increase with income, with those in middle to higher income groups being the main buyers of alcohol in this price range.

The research, carried out on behalf of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap), also found that low-income households were less likely to buy alcohol from off-sales.

"Part of the explanation for the finding that low-income groups are not the main purchasers of cheap alcohol is that fewer low-income households are purchasers of alcohol at all," it said.

"If anything, middle-income groups appear to purchase more of the lower-priced alcohol.

"One potential explanation may be that these households have sufficient discretionary income to allow them to take advantage of discounted special offers."

Heaviest drinkers

Prof Ludbrook said: "It is well-established that controlling the price of alcohol is one of the most effective means of reducing damaging levels of consumption.

"However, some concern has been expressed that this measure will only raise alcohol prices for people on low incomes. This is based on the assumption that only low-income households buy cheap alcohol and high-income households buy none.

"However, the evidence shows that households in all income groups buy cheap alcohol."

Dr Bruce Ritson, chairman of Shaap, said the study suggested that minimum pricing will have a selective effect on the heaviest drinkers, who consume almost two-thirds of the low-cost alcohol.

"We hope this new evidence will allay some of the concerns that have been expressed and will encourage politicians in all parties to support minimum pricing," he added.

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