FIGURES published yesterday suggest that the ban on multi-buy booze deals in Scottish off-licences and supermarkets is having an effect.

Sales of beer are down by 8%, wine by 5% and spirits by 3% in the eight weeks following the ban's introduction on October 1. These statistics should be treated with caution. After rising for decades, consumption figures had begun to dip slightly before the legislation came into force, a trend mirrored by a small fall in alcohol-related hospital discharges. Perhaps the economic downturn, combined with increasing awareness of the damage caused by alcohol abuse, is beginning to have an impact.

Also, the fact that wine and spirits sales also fell south of the Border, where there is no similar legislation, suggests that there are other factors at play. Nevertheless, the dip in both wine and spirits sales in Scotland is more pronounced and compared with the 8% drop in Scottish beer sales, in England and Wales, the figure actually rose slightly. So the ban appears to be working. This is a welcome development and bears out the claim of a correlation between consumption and price, which supports the SNP Government's case for minimum alcohol pricing. That measure has been reintroduced and is likely to reach the statute book by next summer. It deserves to be supported.

The logic for banning bulk-buy deals echoes that for legislating to control so-called happy hours in licensed premises. Both appeal to the impulse buyer and offer temptation to over-indulge. In a country where alcohol misuse costs the economy around £3.5bn a year, it is the sort of temptation we can live without. The real test of this legislation is whether the drop in off-sales is sustained along with a parallel fall in alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions.

Statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show a widening gap between incomes and the relative cost of alcohol between 1990 and 2008, resulting in booze being sold at pocket-money prices. Indeed, lager in particular was often used as a loss leader.

Banning such practices is no silver bullet because both those on higher incomes and hardened drinkers are relatively insensitive to price but, as one retailer might put it, every little helps.