NICOLA Sturgeon has urged the whisky industry to abandon its legal action to block minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is due to decide on Friday whether to take its case to the UK Supreme Court after defeat in the Court of Session last month.

A Supreme Court hearing would tie up the case well into 2017.

The Scottish Parliament legislated in 2012 to link the price of alcohol sold in shops to its strength in order to tackle problem drinking, with cheap ciders and vodkas a particular target.

SNP ministers want a price of 50p per unit, making a bottle of whisky or vodka at least £14 and a bottle of wine about £4.50.

The SWA has led the fight against the change, arguing it breaches EU trade law.

At First Minister’s Questions, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said 69 per cent of spirits sold in Scotland cost less than 50p per unit, and a new minimum was “clearly the most effective and proportionate way to reduce the harm caused by cheap, high-strength alcohol.”

Ms Sturgeon said the main stumbling block was “whether the Scotch Whisky Association and its co-litigants in the case seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court”.

She added: “The SWA can, even at this late stage, choose not to apply for leave to appeal, and I very much hope that it chooses that course of action.

“I also hope that it and others reflect on the fact that minimum unit pricing was passed with the overwhelming support of the Parliament; that it has been tested in Europe; and that it has been approved twice now in the Scottish courts.

“I think the industry itself will receive widespread and very justified approval and respect if it accepts the time has now come to implement a measure that will save lives across Scotland.”

An SWA spokeswoman said: “We are still consulting on this. We will reach a decision by Friday’s deadline and make our decision public.”