A MINIMUM price of 50p per unit for alcohol will save lives, according to Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

Despite the price not affecting many market-leading drinks, she said it will target the cheapest and strongest.

The 50p minimum will more than double the price of some strong ciders and supermarket lagers and increase own-brand spirits by £4 per bottle, but won't affect most brand-name whisky, vodka or popular lagers that have the same strength.

Many alcohol campaigners and medical experts back the policy, due to come into effect in April 2013, but others claim it penalises the poorest and won't affect alcohol abuse.

Ms Sturgeon said it was not a cure-all, but designed to tackle the cheapest drinks, part of a package of measures to curb excessive drinking.

Tesco Strong Dry Cider will jump from £1.80 for four cans to £4.67, a rise of 159%, costing a heavy drinker who buys five packs per week an extra £14.35 a week, while a Tesco vodka drinker will pay an extra £4.41 per bottle, up 50%, from £8.72

Meanwhile, someone could drink four cans of Stella Artois lager five nights per week and a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka at the weekend (1.2 units, two-and-a-half times the recommended limit) which, according to the government, would cost £36.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The evidence shows minimum pricing will reduce consumption and I am convinced of its benefits."

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "By setting the price at this level, it is estimated that in Scotland at least 8600 alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths will be prevented."

Dr Evelyn Gillan of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: "A 50p minimum price could save 500 lives every year and put an end to the irresponsible practices by supermarkets, where a unit of alcohol can be sold for less than 15p."

However, John Drummond of the Scottish Grocers' Federation said: "This regressive and disproportionate measure will punish low-income and moderate drinkers and do little to change the harmful drinking habits of those who already buy products well above the minimum unit price.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "The Scottish Government's own research shows that minimum pricing will not reduce the number of hazardous drinkers."