BII Scotland, whose membership includes rural pubs, hotels and licensed grocers, has accused the Scottish Government of “causing unemployment with bureaucracy”.

But health campaigners say that in the furore, put down to a powerful drinks industry, the benefits from the new regime are being lost, despite no other European nation having protection of health underpinning its licensing laws.

Some leading experts on alcohol abuse claim the new act has scope to address the number of licences in circulation and force authorities to take into account the impact on health of their decisions on pubs, clubs and off-sales, especially in the context of one in 20 deaths being alcohol-related and Scotland having Europe’s highest rates of cirrhosis.

Dr Peter Rice, a leading clinical psychiatrist and member of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), played a role in advising civil servants on the legislation earlier in the decade.

Dr Rice said: “We must remember, the English legislation made no mention of health. In Scotland, from here on in, licensing boards and forums will have to know their communities much better, the health statistics and what the impact of alcohol is having on these.

“This would affect decisions on the number of licences in circulation, rates of abuse or monitoring under-age sales. This is, of course, only part of a larger jigsaw but unlike the previous act we’ve now something we can tweak as it evolves. This is something to be proud of.”

Dr Evelyn Gillan, also of SHAAP, said: “More than 90% of A&E visits are related to alcohol and we’re confident that over time this will take some of the pressure off hospitals. The alcohol lobby is very powerful and vocal but now the silent communities plagued by alcohol abuse also have a voice.”

However, the row over the implications of the new act for businesses shows no sign of abating.

Janet Hood, head of BII Scotland, said Scotland was around 20% down on the number of licences in circulation and estimated that up to 4000 jobs will have gone.

She said: “The Scottish Government is rightly trying to retrieve the situation with the Diageo workers but their own bureaucracy, rather than the legislation, is causing unemployment. This was supposedly about creating level playing fields and tackling the baddies.Instead we’ve caused irreparable harm to our licensed trade, which isn’t just about selling drink but also about tourism.”

Patrick Browne, of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, added: “If we have lost thousands of outlets that will be a loss to the licensed and hospitality industries in Scotland and make it more difficult to deliver the Scottish Government’s ambition of growing the tourism industry in Scotland by 50% by 2015.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have done what we can to minimise the costs this has on businesses, for example introducing a new system of fees to make sure smaller premises pay a smaller share of the cost.

“It is for each business to weigh up the cost of complying with the act against the profit they make from alcohol, but we have asked the Accounts Commission to look at the fee arrangements and we will consider any recommendation they make.

“Many small businesses have seen themselves through this process without incurring these costs.”