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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A minimum price per unit of alcohol: A focus group study to investigate public opinion concerning UK government proposals to introduce new price controls to curb alcohol consumption

Adam J Lonsdale1*, Sarah J Hardcastle2 and Martin S Hagger3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, OX3 0BP, UK

2 School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton, Eastbourne, BN20 7SR, UK

3 School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth, WA6845, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1023  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1023

Published: 23 November 2012

Abstract

Background

UK drinkers regularly consume alcohol in excess of guideline limits. One reason for this may be the high availability of low-cost alcoholic beverages. The introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy has been proposed as a means to reduce UK alcohol consumption. However, there is little in-depth research investigating public attitudes and beliefs regarding a minimum pricing policy. The aim of the present research was to investigate people’s attitudes and beliefs toward the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy and their views on how the policy could be made acceptable to the general public.

Methods

Twenty-eight focus groups were conducted to gain in-depth data on attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs regarding the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy. Participants (total N = 218) were asked to give their opinions about the policy, its possible outcomes, and how its introduction might be made more acceptable. Transcribed focus-group discussions were analysed for emergent themes using inductive thematic content analysis.

Results

Analysis indicated that participants’ objections to a minimum price had three main themes: (1) scepticism of minimum pricing as an effective means to reduce harmful alcohol consumption; (2) a dislike of the policy for a number of reasons (e.g., it was perceived to ‘punish’ the moderate drinker); and (3) concern that the policy might create or exacerbate existing social problems. There was a general perception that the policy was aimed at ‘problem’ and underage drinkers. Participants expressed some qualified support for the policy but stated that it would only work as part of a wider campaign including other educational elements.

Conclusions

There was little evidence to suggest that people would support the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy. Scepticism about the effectiveness of the policy is likely to represent the most significant barrier to public support. Findings also suggest that clearer educational messages are needed to dispel misconceptions regarding the effectiveness of the policy and the introduction of the policy as part of a package of government initiatives to address excess alcohol consumption might be the best way to advance support for the policy.