May 12, 2020
Early success in the NT: minimum unit pricing update
Since being introduced in the Northern Territory in October 2018, a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol has been contributing to a reduction in alcohol-related harm.1
A report assessing the impact of a minimum unit price one year after implementation has found reductions in alcohol-related:
- road crashes causing injury or fatality
- ambulance attendances
- emergency department presentations.1
There have also been reductions in episodes of protective custody (when a person who is intoxicated is taken into custody by police).1 Furthermore, the report finds that the minimum unit price had no significant impact on tourism (it looks at a pre-coronavirus period), or the number of liquor licences in the NT.1
The minimum unit price was brought in as part of a suite of alcohol supply reduction measures introduced between September 2017 and October 2018. These also included Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors in some locations and a Banned Drinker Register.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation continues to advocate for the introduction of a minimum unit price in all states and territories.
Since this policy remains a poorly understood measure to reduce harms from alcohol, it’s important that people have the facts about what it is and why it matters.
What is minimum unit pricing?
Minimum unit pricing for alcohol means setting a minimum cost for which a ‘unit’ (standard drink)* of alcohol can legally be sold. It may also be referred to as a floor price.
The Northern Territory has set their price at $1.30.
Minimum unit pricing is a measure that governments can use to reduce alcohol-related harms. Evidence indicates that price controls like minimum unit pricing can be effective in reducing health problems, violence, accidents and injuries.
How minimum unit pricing works
A minimum unit price increases the cost of the cheapest packaged alcohol if it is being sold below $1.30 per standard drink. This mostly affects cask or boxed wines. It should not affect drink prices in bars, pubs or nightclubs.
Evidence shows that there is a link between the cost of alcohol, consumption and related harms, such as disease and injuries, road accidents and violence.2-4 Cheaper alcohol encourages underage drinking and higher levels of alcohol consumption, including binge drinking.5-7
When the cost of alcohol increases, people who are consuming higher levels of alcohol are likely to consume less and, subsequently, the risk of harms decreases.
Pricing controls, such as minimum unit pricing, have been identified by the World Health Organization as some of the most effective measures to reduce harm caused by alcohol.8,9
Minimum unit pricing has been introduced internationally with success in Canada, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. These countries have seen a resultant reduction in alcohol consumption and related harms.10-12
Why minimum unit pricing matters
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia.13 It is also considered the most harmful after tobacco.14,15 Overwhelmingly, it is lower socioeconomic groups and other disadvantaged communities that are impacted by alcohol-related harms.
Governments and public health bodies have long committed to reducing harms from alcohol. In Australia, for example, it is illegal to drive while intoxicated or buy alcohol as a minor. Venues and shops that sell alcohol must be licensed and there are restrictions on trading hours.
Setting a minimum unit price for alcohol is another tool to reduce harms; it’s one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce alcohol consumption.3,16
Minimum unit pricing in Australia
The positive results we’re seeing since the introduction of a minimum unit price in the Northern Territory suggest that it could show similar success across Australia.
Setting a minimum unit price may be easier to implement than other forms of price control.
While tax laws can only be passed by the federal government, the Australian states and territories have the responsibility of regulating liquor retailers. In the Northern Territory, legislation makes the minimum unit price a condition of holding a liquor licence.
MUP is part of a suite of effective harm reduction measure, alongside other measures such as the introduction of a volumetric tax on alcohol, the provision of support services, restrictions on alcohol advertising and stricter policing of liquor outlets.
* A standard drink is 10 grams of pure alcohol, e.g. 30mL of a distilled spirit like vodka. Read more about standard drinks.
- Coomber K, Miller P, Taylor N, Livingston M, Smith J, Buykx P, et al. Investigating the introduction of the alcohol minimum unit price in the Northern Territory: Final report. Geelong: Deakin University; 2020.
- Elder RW, Lawrence B, Ferguson A, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Chattopadhyay SK, et al. The effectiveness of tax policy interventions for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. American journal of preventive medicine. 2010;38(2):217-29.
- Carragher N, Chalmers J. What are the options? Pricing and taxation policy reforms to redress excessive alcohol consumption and related harms in Australia. 2011.
- Boniface S, Scannell JW, Marlow S. Evidence for the effectiveness of minimum pricing of alcohol: a systematic review and assessment using the Bradford Hill criteria for causality. BMJ open. 2017;7(5):e013497.
- Babor T, Caetano R, Casswell S, Edwards G, Giesbrecht N, Graham K, et al. Alcohol: no ordinary commodity: research and public policy. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2010;26(4):280-3.
- Wall M, Casswell S, Yeh LC. Purchases by heavier drinking young people concentrated in lower priced beverages: Implications for policy. Drug and alcohol review. 2017;36(3):352-8.
- Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. National Alcohol Strategy: analysis of alcohol industry submissions. 2018.
- World Health Organization. Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Italy; 2010.
- World Health Organization Regional Office fro Europe. European status report on alcohol and health 2014: pricing policies. 2014.
- Stockwell T, Auld MC, Zhao J, Martin G. Does minimum pricing reduce alcohol consumption? The experience of a Canadian province. Addiction. 2012;107(5):912-20.
- Stockwell T, Zhao J, Martin G, Macdonald S, Vallance K, Treno A, et al. Minimum alcohol prices and outlet densities in British Columbia, Canada: estimated impacts on alcohol-attributable hospital admissions. American journal of public health. 2013;103(11):2014-20.
- World Health Organization Management of Substance Abuse Unit. Global status report on alcohol and health, 2014. World Health Organization; 2014.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2017.
- Bonomo Y, Norman A, Biondo S, Bruno R, Daglish M, Dawe S, et al. The Australian drug harms ranking study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2019;33(7):759-68.
- Global Commission on Drug Policy. Classification of psychoactive substances: When science was left behind. 2019.
- Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. The Price is Right: Setting a Minimum Unit Price on Alcohol in the Northern Territory. Canberra: FARE; 2017.