The Scottish Government is to increase the minimum price at which alcohol can be sold by 30%, it has confirmed.
Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said the hike in the minimum unit price (MUP) from 50p to 65p shows Scotland remains “world leading” in working to improve public health.
She announced the change as she warned health harms caused by alcohol are still a “significant issue in Scotland”.
The Deputy First Minister said: “The decision to continue MUP and to increase the price shows Scotland continues to be world leading in improving the health of the people in Scotland.”
The change, which has to be approved by the Scottish Parliament, will not take place until September 30, Ms Robison added.
Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce MUP when the policy came into force in 2018.
Michael Matheson had been due to give the statement to Parliament after drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham quit the Government earlier this week for health reasons.
But with Mr Matheson having resigned as health secretary on Thursday morning in the wake of an ongoing row over his iPad roaming charges, Ms Robison stepped into the confirm the hike.
She told MSPs that research by “internationally-renowned public health experts” had estimated MUP had “saved hundreds of lives”.
While deaths from alcohol had increased, with 1,276 alcohol-specific deaths in 2022, she insisted more people would have died if the policy had not been in place.
She said the policy struck a “reasonable balance between public health benefits and any effects on the alcoholic drinks market and impact on consumers”.
Ms Robison added: “Evidence suggests there has not been a significant impact on business and industry as a whole.”
Inflation means the current MUP of 50p should increase to “at least 60p per unit”, she told Holyrood.
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane insisted MUP is “not the magic bullet that the Scottish Government are continuing to laud”.
Dr Gulhane told MSPs alcohol-related deaths are “at a 14-year high in Scotland”.
He added: “There are 40 studies in the evaluation of MUP and only one claimed a reduction in deaths.”
Ms Robison however told him: “It is likely that without MUP tragically we would have experienced an even greater number of alcohol-specific deaths.”
Doctors’ leaders and health campaigners welcomed the proposed rise in MUP, with Dr Iain Kennedy of the British Medical Association Scotland saying the policy has already made a “real difference”.
Dr Kennedy, a member of the BMA Scotland consultant committee, added that while the decision to increase it is “the right one”, the Government “must focus on delivering a package of supportive measures to ensure we are not simply relying on minimum unit pricing to reduce the harm caused by problem alcohol use in Scotland, as crucial as this policy is”.
Dr Sorcha Hume, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Scotland, said the increase could help reduce cancer deaths.
She said: “Alcohol is a known cause of cancer and the more someone drinks the greater their risk of cancer, so reducing alcohol consumed will reduce the risk of cancer.
“Not only will raising the minimum unit price of alcohol help to reduce the number of lives lost to cancer each year, but it will also reduce pressure on the NHS as well as help tackle health inequalities experienced by people in Scotland.”
However Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said the rise is “disappointing, especially during a cost-of-living crisis”.
She added: “The vast majority of people consume alcohol responsibly and this increase will put further pressure on strained household budgets.
“We strongly advise the Scottish Government to reconsider the increase at this time and instead look towards targeted interventions which have a proven record in tackling alcohol misuse.”