‘Reducing the Strength’ (RtS) is a public health initiative encouraging retailers to voluntarily stop selling cheap, strong beers/ciders (≥6.5% alcohol by volume). This study evaluates the impact of RtS initiatives on alcohol availability and purchasing in three English counties with a combined population of 3.62 million people.
We used a multiple baseline time-series design to examine retail data over 29 months from a supermarket chain that experienced a two-wave, area-based role out of RtS: initially 54 stores (W1), then another 77 stores (W2). We measured impacts on units of alcohol sold (primary outcome: beers/ciders; secondary outcome: all alcoholic products), economic impacts on alcohol sales and substitution effects.
We observed a non-significant W1 increase (+3.7%, 95% CI: −11.2, 21.0) and W2 decrease (−6.8%, 95% CI: −20.5, 9.4) in the primary outcome. We observed a significant W2 decrease in units sold across all alcohol products (−10.5%, 95% CI: −19.2, −0.9). The direction of effect between waves was inconsistent for all outcomes, including alcohol sales, with no evidence of substitution effects.
In the UK, voluntary RtS initiatives appear to have little or no impact on reducing alcohol availability and purchase from the broader population of supermarket customers.