Scotland’s health secretary, Shona Robison, has confirmed that all alcoholic drinks in Scotland must cost at least 50p per unit of alcohol from May this year.
The new minimum unit-price will force up the cost of cut-price ciders, beers, spirits and wines. Ministers have already said prices could rise to keep pace with inflation.
Robison said: “With alcohol on sale today in some places at just 16 pence per unit, we have to tackle the scourge of cheap, high-strength drink that causes so much damage to so many families. This move will save thousands of lives.”
The Welsh assembly is expected to endorse similar measures this spring, with minimum pricing due to come into force in Wales next year. Ministers in Cardiff have not yet published a proposed price.
Health experts with the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) told the Scottish government last month they should consider raising the minimum price to at least 60p a unit, to ensure the price of most alcoholic drinks increases.
The current basic price of 50p a unit was set in 2012 but its implementation has been delayed by repeated legal action against minimum pricing, spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association. That ended with a final supreme court ruling supporting the policy in November.
The effects of inflation in the alcoholic drinks industry means that only half of all drinks in Scotland would be affected by a 50p minimum price, the RSE calculated, compared with 70% of drinks at 2012 prices. A price of 64p would be needed to accurately track inflation in the drinks market.
Welsh ministers are considering a range of prices, from 35p a unit to as high as 70p, after Sheffield University researchers found that 22% of drinkers who drank at harmful levels consumed 75% of the alcohol sold in Wales.
The RSE also warned that minimum pricing would directly benefit drinks retailers and supermarkets, since they will keep any extra profits from selling affected products at the higher price.
Ministers needed to look at ways of clawing back that profit “so that money can be used for the public good”, added the society. Scottish ministers counter that Holyrood has no powers over alcohol taxation, and cannot directly use those powers to move the money into health spending.