Scotland has become the first country in the world to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

As from today, a minimum 50p per unit price must be charged for all types of drink. The aim of the law is to tackle the health problems caused by cheap, high strength alcohol.

The way to implementing the law, passed in 2012, was finally cleared last year when a challenge to its competency by the Scotch Whisky Association and other producers, based on EU law, failed in the UK Supreme Court.

Research founded on by the Scottish Government indicates that the move is expected to save 392 lives in the first five years of implementation, and the new law has been strongly backed by the British Medical Association. Health groups are now lobbying for a similar measure to be introduced south of the border.

Wales and Ireland are pursuing similar legislation, and the developments in Scotland are also being keenly watched in other parts of the world. The state Government of Australia's Northern Territories intends to introduce legislation.

However Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs is among those who question whether the policy will achieve the desired effect of cutting consumption among target problem drinkers. "Back of the envelope calculations have been used to justify a nationwide rip-off that will raise the cost of living for all but the very rich", he commented.

The law will expire after six years unless kept in force by the Parliament.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented: "I am extremely proud that the eyes of the world will once again be on Scotland with the introduction of this legislation. Our action is bold and it is brave, and shows once again that we are leading the way in introducing innovative solutions to public health challenges.

"It’s no secret that Scotland has a troubled relationship with alcohol. There are, on average, 22 alcohol-specific deaths every week in Scotland, and 697 hospital admissions and behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community badly affected by alcohol misuse.

"Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum unit pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood added: "As a nation we drink 40% more than the low risk drinking guidelines of 14 units per week for men and women. Prior to the implementation of minimum unit pricing, those 14 units could be bought for just £2.52. This is absolutely unacceptable.

"That is where this new legislation comes in, and I am confident that over the first five years of its operation, minimum unit pricing will reduce the number of alcohol-specific deaths by hundreds, and hospital admissions by thousands."