CHEAP white cider is "significantly associated" with deaths among heavy drinkers in Glasgow and Edinburgh, according to a study into problem drinking patterns in the two cities.

Researchers also found that the heavy drinkers who died during the project "bought significantly lower cost vodka compared to surviving participants", leading to calls among alcohol campaigners for an end to the legal wrangles standing in the way of minimum pricing in Scotland.

The research, published by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and carried out at Edinburgh Napier University, followed 639 heavy drinkers from 2012 to 2015.

Among the participants, 105 died, with an average age of 51. Alcohol was cited as a factor in 73 of the deaths, while another 18 - including four which were suicides - were blamed on drugs, drowning, hanging, fall, assault or accidental alcohol poisoning.

White cider, beer, vodka and white wine all consumed by the participants, but the impact of cheap cider and vodka appeared particularly harmful.

The report stated: "Within the Glasgow participants, significant associations were found for being deceased and ‘any drug use’ and being a white cider drinker. Like their Edinburgh counterparts the deceased Glasgow participants paid significantly less for their unit of alcohol than surviving patients."

On average, the heavy drinkers who had died had paid an average of 39 pence per unit of alcohol compared to 46 pence among those who were still alive. Minimum pricing would impose a levy of 50 pence per unit.

It adds: "White cider drinking was significantly associated with the deceased group of participants in both cities. With Edinburgh this was also true for vodka. The key contribution made by vodka to the general population’s alcohol intake has been well documented in various reports analysing Scottish sales data...In our study deceased participants bought significantly lower cost vodka compared to surviving participants."

BMA Scotland chair, Dr Peter Bennie, said: "This latest data underlines the severe damage that very cheap alcohol is doing to Scotland year after year and shows why the introduction in minimum unit pricing is just as urgent as ever.

“As doctors, we see the human costs of alcohol misuse every day and the incalculable damage alcohol can do to people’s lives and the lives of loved ones.

“With the Supreme Court’s hearing approaching, everyone with a concern for reducing alcohol harms will be hoping that after five long years, the alcohol industry’s attempts to stall the introduction of minimum unit pricing can be brought to an end and we can move forward with this life saving policy as quickly as possible.”

Dr Jan Gill, Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier University and lead researcher for the report, said: “The data sharply highlight the personal toll linked to heavy alcohol consumption, while the full extent of its earlier impact on each drinker’s quality of life and personal relationships can only be guessed”.

The UK Supreme Court will hear the latest appeal against minimum pricing, brought by the Scotch Whisky Association, on July 24 and 25.

Karen Betts, chief executive of SWA, said minimum pricing was a "trade barrier" which would harm Scotland's whisky industry. She added: “We are encouraged that the evidence shows that alcohol-related harm is on a downward trend in Scotland. But we also recognise that significant challenges remain in tackling alcohol related harm. The Scotch Whisky industry is a willing and committed partner in that work.

“We do not believe the evidence that minimum pricing would tackle the small minority of those drinking to hazardous and harmful levels is sound."