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ONLY about a dozen countries, mainly in eastern Europe, drink more than the British. Adult Britons each glug the equivalent of 500 pints of beer a year, a habit which kills 7,000 of them annually. The Scots, who are the thirstiest of the bunch, are determined to cut down. On February 26th their devolved government set a minimum price for alcohol of 50p ($0.70) per unit (equivalent to roughly half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine). The policy is likely to sober up some of the heaviest drinkers. Surprisingly, it may also give some drinks firms and retailers reason to celebrate.

The Scottish Parliament voted for a price floor in 2012. But legal challenges by the drinks industry delayed the policy’s implementation. The Scotch Whisky Association argued that the plan conflicted with European Union trade rules. In November 2017 Britain’s Supreme Court decided that it did not. When the policy is introduced in May, Scotland will join a handful of other countries that have introduced some form of minimum price, mostly big-drinking places such as Russia and Ukraine.

Plenty of tipples will be made more expensive by the new floor. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, suggests that across Britain roughly 70% of shop-bought alcohol is priced at below 50p a unit. The cheapest, strongest drinks will become a lot more expensive. In some places the price of Omega cider, which makes up in strength what it lacks in taste, stands to rise by 70%.

This kind of sturdy, discount grog is often favoured by the hardest drinkers. The minimum price could, therefore, have a big impact on public health. Last year a review of evidence in BMJ Open, an online journal, suggested that minimum pricing was “likely to reduce alcohol consumption, alcohol-related morbidity and mortality”.

Yet the policy may also mean higher profits for some drinks makers and retailers. Demand for booze tends to be inelastic with respect to price, suggesting that the hit to revenues caused by the expected fall in consumption will be more than outweighed by the rise in prices. Normally competition between firms prevents them from jacking up their prices. By introducing a compulsory price floor, the government is doing it for them.

Higher taxes would be an alternative way to dissuade consumption, with the added benefit of raising money for the Treasury rather than the drinks industry. It would encourage champagne guzzlers to cut back, as well as scrumpy swillers. But the Scottish government has no powers over alcohol duties. And the Westminster government, which does, is worried about squeezed living standards and is in no mood to raise taxes on the national pastime.