The case to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland is to be referred to the European Court of Justice.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh referred the decision today following an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association, which argues that minimum pricing would damage the industry.

Both parties welcomed the referral to the highest authority on EU law. Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: “The evidence shows that minimum unit pricing is an effective way to tackle alcohol-related harm. This is because it targets heavy drinkers in particular as they tend to drink the cheap, high strength alcohol that will be most affected by the policy.

“That is why I welcome the referral to European Court of Justice. Scotland is leading the way in Europe. We are confident of our case and look forward to presenting it in the European Court of Justice.”

David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “We are pleased that the Court of Session in Edinburgh is referring the minimum unit pricing (MUP) case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. From the outset we said that we believed MUP was contrary to European Union law and that it was likely in the end to go to the European Court.

“We also believe MUP would be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse and would damage the Scotch Whisky industry in the UK and overseas.”

Minimum unit pricing was originally set to be introduced in Scotland in 2013. The judgement from the European Court of Justice could take more than a year.