The number of alcohol-related deaths fell by 10% in the year after minimum unit pricing (MUP) was introduced in Scotland, new figures show.
A total of 1,020 Scots’ deaths were linked to alcohol in 2019, down from 1,136 in 2018.
The number of deaths was at the lowest level since 2013, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures.
Minimum unit pricing was introduced in May 2018.
It means alcoholic drinks cannot be sold for less than 50p per unit of alcohol.
The policy has been hailed by campaigners and politicians for “saving lives” after the drop in alcohol-related deaths in the first full year of statistics since it came into effect.
Although the NRS report suggests there is “stronger evidence of an impact” compared with last year, the 10% variation is “just within the maximum expected year-to-year fluctuation”.
Pete Whitehouse, the NRS’s statistical services director said: “Today’s figures show a notable fall in the number of deaths due to alcohol.
“Since our records began in 1979, there have only been three other occasions where we have seen a reduction in the number of alcohol-specific deaths of around 10% or more in a single year.
“However, although an annual decrease of this magnitude is notable, further data will be required to see if this reduction continues and whether we will see a sustained shift in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland.”
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Lewis Morrison, said: “This is a welcome development and the figures show that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to changing Scotland’s relationship with, and attitude towards, alcohol.
“We know there is still work to be done – but this is very encouraging for minimum unit pricing’s long-term strategy.
“The aim of minimum unit pricing was to change our country’s relationship with alcohol in the long-term and for generations to come, and these figures indicate that a better future for the nation’s health is achievable.”
He added: “It is important to remember this was never meant to be a quick-fix method and real change will take time.
“I am a firm believer in MUP and I am hopeful that this trend will continue over the coming years.”
SNP MSP Emma Harper said: “According to this data, minimum unit pricing is already saving lives in Scotland – with alcohol-specific deaths dropping by 10% since the policy was introduced.
“It’s absolutely clear that the SNP Government’s approach to improving Scotland’s public health and tackling alcohol abuse is working.
“We’re moving in the right direction but there are still far too many families affected by the devastating impact alcohol can have on people’s lives and there is still much work to be done to reduce alcohol-related harm and mortality in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government will continue working hard to tackle alcohol misuse but it’s time Westminster caught up with the SNP’s progressive policies to ensure lives are saved across the UK.”
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, stressed the importance of “full and robust evaluation” of minimum unit pricing and called for the 50p per unit to be increased.
She added: “Minimum unit pricing alone was never expected to solve Scotland’s alcohol problem.
“There’s still much more we can do to tackle alcohol harm.
“Reducing how readily available alcohol is and how heavily it is marketed could help to improve the lives of thousands of Scots by preventing problems developing in the first place.”