Reducing the Strength is an increasingly popular intervention in the UK in which local authorities ask retailers to stop selling ‘super-strength’ beers and ciders. A paper published in BMC Public Health examined whether and why retailers choose or refuse to self-impose restrictions on alcohol sales in this way.
A mixed method study of retailers’ participation in the Reducing the Strength scheme assessed compliance rates and the cheapest available unit of alcohol at each store in two London (UK) local authorities. In addition, qualitative interviews with 39 retailer managers and staff explored attitudes towards the intervention and perceptions of its impacts.
Shops selling super-strength alcohol across both areas fell from 78 to 25 (18% of all off-licences). The median price of the cheapest unit of alcohol available across all retailers increased from £0.29 to £0.33 and in shops that participated in Reducing the Strength it rose from £0.33 to £0.43. The project received a mixed response from retailers. Reasons given for participating in the schemed included the prospect of detering disruptive customers, reducing neighbourhood disruptions and maintaining a good relationship with the local authority. Both Reducing the Strength participants and nonparticipants expressed concern at the possibility of a negative financial impact due to customers shopping elsewhere for super-strength alcohol and that by customers circumventing the intervention, its effectiveness would be limited. It was also considered that a larger scale compulsory approach would be more effective.
The authors state that Reducing the Strength can achieve high rates of voluntary compliance, reduce the availability of super-strength and raise the price of the cheapest available unit of alcohol in participating shops. Questions remain over the extent to which voluntary interventions of this type can achieve wider social or health goals if non-participating shops attract customers from those who participate.
Source: Reducing the Strength: a mixed methods evaluation of alcohol retailers’ willingness to voluntarily reduce the availability of low cost, high strength beers and ciders in two UK local authorities. C Sumpter, E McGill, E Dickie, E Champo, E Romeri and M Egan. BMC Public Health, BMC series: 26 May 2016.