Intended for healthcare professionals


Government launches campaign to cut alcohol related deaths

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:825

Alcohol units at pocket money prices

On 21st October 2006, BMJ reported the launch of a high profile
advertising campaign in England, aimed at reducing injury and death caused
to young people by binge drinking. This report included a warning from an
Alcohol Concern spokesman that advertising alone was unlikely to be
effective while alcohol remained easily available and of low price [1].
The following week, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish
Parliament hosted a meeting at a Glasgow Secondary school, following the
presentation of a petition by three pupils urging the Scottish Executive
to investigate the public health implications of cheaply available alcohol

Alcohol is price sensitive; increasing price reduces demand. However
the relative price of alcohol in the UK has reduced [3]. Between 1990 and
2005, mean alcohol consumption among 11-15-year old last-week drinkers
doubled from 5.3 to 10.5 units [4].

The most popular drinks among this age group include vodka, beers,
ciders and alcopops [5, 6]. In addition, in the West of Scotland, there
is Buckfast, a fortified wine with a high caffeine content, which has
received some notoriety for its association with binge drinking among
young people.[7]

To determine how much those who purchase such drinks from UK
supermarkets or off-licences pay per UK ‘unit’ of alcohol (1cl), the
prices of a range of drinks in one medium sized and one smaller
supermarket and one off-licence within Glasgow city, and two off-licences
in a peripheral housing estate were recorded (week beginning 13th

The same brands of lager (locally-produced Tennent’s, 4.0% abv, and
super-strength Carlsberg Special, 9.0% abv) were available in each outlet,
although in varying pack sizes. The price for a single can or bottle was
obtained if available, otherwise that of the displayed multipack.
Identical brands and quantities of a cider (Strongbow, 5.3% abv), perry
(Lambrini, 7.5% abv) and alcopop (WKD, 5.0% abv) were available, but there
was a range of strong white ciders (7.5% abv). The cheapest of these in
each outlet was chosen. The same brand of vodka (Glen’s, 37.5% abv) was
available in all outlets, but one of the peripheral estate off-licences
restricted sales to ‘half bottles’ (35cl). Buckfast (15% abv) was
available in all except the small supermarket.

For each drink apart from Buckfast (44.3p-48.8p per unit when
purchased in 75cl bottles), prices varied considerably between outlets,
those in the supermarkets generally being slightly lower.

Within any one outlet, the cheapest per unit price was strong white
cider. This could be purchased for as little as 11.1p per unit (3ltr
bottles for £2.49/50 at the supermarkets). Lambrini (perry) could be had
for 17.8p per unit at the smaller supermarket (£2.00 for a 2ltr bottle)
and cider for 25.4p per unit at one of the peripheral estate off-licences
(£2.69 for a 2ltr bottle). Vodka cost 28.1-30.5p per unit at all outlets
except that which restricted the bottle size (40.3p per unit). The lowest
price per unit for lager (27.5p – a 50cl can of Carlsberg Special, £1.24
from the medium sized supermarket) was half that of the highest price
(54.7p - 4 x 44cl cans of Tennent’s lager, £3.85 from the Glasgow city off
-licence). WKD, a vodka-based, blueberry-flavoured, sparkling alcopop was
much the most expensive of these drinks at every outlet, costing 85.4-
111.1p per unit.

Within the UK, drinking at a level ‘likely to lead to intoxication’
is currently defined as 8 or 6 units on any one day for adult males and
females respectively. For those choosing white cider, it would be
possible to consume this amount of alcohol at a cost of under £1.00; if
via vodka it would cost around £2.00. It has not escaped the notice of
many teenagers that this is well within their means. It is likely that
more will take advantage of these low prices than will protest about them.


1. British Medical Journal. Government launches campaign to cut
alcohol related deaths. British Medical Journal 2006;333:825.

2. BBC News. Pupils give MSPs alcohol evidence, 2006,, accessed

3. Ogilvie D, Gruer L, Haw S. Young people's access to tobacco,
alcohol, and other drugs. British Medical Journal 2005;331:393-396.

4. Constantine R. Drinking alcohol. In: Fuller E, editor. Drug use,
smoking and drinking among young people in England in 2005: NHS
Information Centre, 2006.

5. McKeganey N, Forsyth A, Barnard M, Hay G. Designer drinks and
drunkenness amongst a sample of Scottish schoolchildren. British Medical
Journal 1996;313:401.

6. Forsyth A, Barnard M. Preferred drinking locations of Scottish
adolescents. Health and Place 2000;6:105-115.

7. Heald, C. Binge drinking - the Benedictine connection, 2006,, accessed 14.11.06

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

05 December 2006
Helen N Sweeting
Research Scientist
MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G12 8RZ