HEALTH Secretary Nicola Sturgeon will tomorrow signal another expense for hard pressed Scots when she sets a legal minimum alcohol price per unit.
The move, to be announced at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, will make it illegal to sell a standard bottle of whisky for less than £14 and a standard bottle of wine for less than £5.
Supporters say Scotland's alcohol problem claims 3,000 lives each year and costs the economy £3.5bn a year in hospital costs, lost productivity and crime.
The Scottish Sunday Express understands the basic price will be increased from the 45p per unit controversially voted down two years ago.
Ms Sturgeon is expected to announce a level of 50p per unit of alcohol instead, as recommended by a specialist report earlier this year.
If the level is set at 50p per unit, that would seem a sensible approach
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw
Opponents argue the plans will penalise responsible adults instead of problem drinkers, with a 50p level resulting in price hikes for 73 per cent of all off-sales alcohol.
Aileen Keyes, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said: "The announcement of the minimum unit price will make clear just how far hard pressed Scottish consumers' budgets will be stretched by minimum unit pricing.
"The policy will punish the majority of responsible consumers whilst doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse."
Drinks industry insiders have been preparing for a 50p minimum price for months, after researchers found the previous level would no longer be as effective due to inflation.
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A Sheffield University study claimed it would cut consumption by 5.7 per cent, most heavily affecting alcoholics, saving 60 lives in the first year, and 318 a year within a decade.
Ahead of tomorrow's announcement, Ms Sturgeon and Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns will visit a gastroenterology ward to underline the health risks of heavy drinking.
They will be joined by liver specialist Dr Ewan Forrest, Secretary of the Scottish Society of Gastroenterology, who has warned of a "significant increase" in alcohol-related admissions across the NHS.
Dr Linda De Caestecker, director of public health at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and another prominent supporter of minimum pricing, will also attend the press conference.
Despite support from health professionals, opposition parties controversially voted down the SNP's proposal for a 45p per unit level in 2010.
However, with the Nationalists now in a majority at Holyrood, the Bill was passed in March - with only Scottish Labour still against the idea.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said last night: "If the level is set at 50p per unit, that would seem a sensible approach.
"The sunset clause introduced as a result of our support for the Bill means if this proves an unsuccessful measure it can be dropped."
According to the WSTA, 92 per cent of vodka, 72 per cent of whisky, 77 per cent of beer and 63 per cent of wine prices in the off-trade would rise overnight as a result of a 50p minimum unit price.
The average price of a 75cl bottle of wine, with 10.1 units of alcohol, would rise from £3.33 to £5.06, and the average price of a 70cl bottle of whisky, with 28 units of alcohol, would rise from £12.01 to £14.
However, the average price of a 500ml can of beer or lager, with 2.25 units, would remain virtually static at around £1.16.
South of the Border, the UK Government is also considering minimum pricing, although it is exploring a 40p per unit level.
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