What on‐line searches tell us about public interest and potential impact on behaviour in response to minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland
To investigate whether the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland on 1 May 2018 was reflected in changes in the likelihood of alcohol‐related queries submitted to an internet search engine and in particular whether there was any evidence of increased interest in purchasing of alcohol from outside Scotland.
Observational study in which individual queries to the internet Bing search engine for 2018 in Scotland and England were captured and analysed. Fluctuations over time in the likelihood of specific topic searches were examined. The patterns seen in Scotland were contrasted with those in England.
Scotland and England.
People who used the Bing search engine during 2018.
Numbers of daily queries submitted to Bing in 2018 on eight alcohol‐related topics expressed as a proportion of queries on that day on any topic. These daily likelihoods were smoothed using a 14‐day moving average for Scotland and England separately.
There were substantial peaks in queries about MUP itself, cheap sources of alcohol and online alcohol outlets at the time of introduction of MUP in May 2018 in Scotland but not England. These were relatively short‐lived. Queries related to intoxication and alcohol problems did not show a MUP peak but were appreciably higher in Scotland than in England throughout 2018.
Analysis of internet search engine queries appears to show that a fraction of people in Scotland may have considered circumventing minimum unit pricing in 2018 by looking for online alcohol retailers. The overall higher levels of queries related to alcohol problems in Scotland compared with England mirrors the corresponding differences in alcohol consumption and harms between the countries.