Plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland have been further delayed after a ruling by Europe's highest court.
The European Court of Justice advocate general Yves Bot said that legislation passed by MSPs in 2012, which set a minimum unit price of 50p, could infringe EU rules on free trade.
Bot said in an official opinion that it would only be legal if it could be shown that no other mechanism could deliver the desired public health benefits.
"I feel that, having regard to the principle of proportionality, it is difficult to justify the rules at issue, which appear to me to be less consistent and effective than an ‘increased taxation' measure and may even be perceived as being discriminatory," Bot said
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would "vigorously" defend her plans to fix a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland.
She said: "We believe minimum unit pricing would save hundreds of lives in coming years and we will continue to vigorously make the case for this policy."
Bot's opinion is expected to influence a decision by the ECJ, which is studying a legal challenge to the policy on competition and free trade grounds from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
"The opinion encourages us in our long-held view that minimum unit pricing is illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available," said David Frost, the association's chief executive.