ON MAY 1st Scotland introduced a minimum price of 50p ($0.68) per unit of alcohol, which is equivalent to roughly half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine, making it one of a handful of countries to have such a policy. The measure, which was passed by the devolved Scottish parliament in 2012 but has been delayed by legal challenges from the drinks industry, is designed to curb a nation-wide problem. In 2016 7,327 Britons died of causes related to alcohol consumption; the rate in Scotland is nearly double the national average.

The effect on prices will be substantial. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a think-tank, some 70% of alcohol bought in British shops falls below the 50p-per-unit threshold. The IFS has simulated the effects of such a policy across Britain, using tax and alcohol consumption data from 2011 (which have been adjusted to current prices). Lovers of scrumpy apple brews will be particularly dismayed. Cider has historically been taxed at lower rates than other types of drink as a concession to British apple farmers, who sell half of their produce for booze. With a 50p threshold, however, the price of Tesco three-litre dry-bottled cider, the most popular of its kind, would double.

Scotland’s policy is likely to pay off. When the IFS forecasted the results of a nationwide 45p threshold from the 2011 data, it found an increase in social welfare of £830m per year, caused largely by the reduced social costs of excessive drinking. Yet the better option was to overhaul alcohol duties, which could increase social welfare by £1.36bn. Following European Union rules, Britain currently taxes wine and cider by the total volume of a beverage, rather than the number of units it contains, which makes stronger drinks relatively cheaper. The IFS’ proposed tax system would generally target the punchiest products, in the hope of nudging problem drinkers onto softer tipples. The price of weaker spirits, such as Baileys liqueur, would actually fall.

Raising taxes, rather than hiking prices, has the added benefit of directing the extra revenue to public finances which can be invested in healthcare, rather than lining brewers’ pockets. The Scottish government, unfortunately, has no power to do so—and the British government is reluctant to upset voters by making their favourite vice more expensive.