Retailers in Scotland could soon be subject to a new code of conduct designed to curb deep-cut promotional activity on alcohol as part of a bid to tackle the nation's binge-drinking culture.

A special task force, made up of key industry associations from the brewing and grocery retailing sectors, is working on the new guidelines, which are set to focus largely on the retailing and promotion of alcoholic beverages, but will also cover staff training and health warnings. The working group also aims to make it tougher in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK for children to buy alcohol.

An investigation into consumer buying habits by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) earlier this year revealed that promotional offers on alcohol at the major retailers provoked dramatic increases in sales and frequency of customer return. Sales increased by an average of 25% while promotions were running, with 83% of customers returning for a second purchase.

Figures released this week showed that alcohol and drug-related deaths in Scotland have increased by 20% since 1999, with 1,513 cases reported in 2005. Jack Law, chief executive of AFS, said: "This further rise in alcohol-related deaths, to an all-time high in some areas, shows that we have a very long way to go in tackling Scotland's problem drinking culture."

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, one of the associations making up the task force, said: "Alcohol is set to become a very hot topic in Scotland, and as the elections draw closer it will also become a key political battleground. Regulations have yet to be agreed, but everyone from the on-trade to the off-trade is committed to the retailing and promoting of alcohol in a responsible way."

The move comes after top brewer Scottish & Newcastle slammed major multiples across the UK for their willingness to sell alcohol at low cost in a bid to drive footfall, claiming this strategy was not consistent with responsible drinking messages (The Grocer, 29 July, p7).

This criticism was echoed by Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie, who accused retailers of encouraging binge drinking and called on the Scottish Executive to ban bogof deals on booze.