Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Chancellor urged to tackle cheap, strong cider in Budget

Alcohol experts are calling on the Chancellor to use his Spring budget to increase duty on cheap, high strength alcohol which is putting the health and wellbeing of children and heavy drinkers at risk.

The calls for increased duty come from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), whose opinion polling has found that 66% of the public support tax increases on cheap, high strength cider.

At typically 7.5% ABV, three litre bottles of these ciders, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, can be bought in the off trade for as little as £3.49. This equates to just 16p per unit.

Due to their low price and high strength, street drinkers and children account for nearly all sales of these ciders, which include products like Frosty Jack’s and White Ace. Many people in treatment for alcohol problems consume these products, having “traded down” to cider as their drinking became heavier.

Almost all drunk by dependent drinkers

Strong cider attracts the lowest duty per unit of any alcohol product and the increase being proposed by the AHA would leave 80 per cent of cider sales unaffected.

Alongside duty increases, the AHA has urged the Chancellor to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and to reinstate the alcohol duty escalator. Introduced in 2008, the duty escalator had ensured that the duty on alcohol remained at 2% above inflation each year, and was a key measure in reducing the amount of harm done by alcohol. However, in 2013 the beer duty escalator was frozen, and in 2014 the escalator was scrapped altogether. Treasury figures show that tax cuts given to the alcohol industry over the past four budgets will cost the public purse £790 million in 2017/18 and a total of £2.9 billion over five years.

In December 2016, the Lancet published research showing that alcohol costs the UK economy between £27 and 52 billion a year, and that 167,000 years of working life are lost in England alone every year due to alcohol. In addition, one in five of all hospital admissions are alcohol related, while 70-80% of people attending A&E at peak times have been drinking.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA, said:

“Alcohol is 60% more affordable than it was in the 1980s, but the low prices it is being sold at in the off trade hide a much bigger price we are all paying: in terms of damage to individuals’ health, hospital admissions, and pressure on our NHS and emergency services.

“This is pressure the health service cannot be expected to bear, given the well-known challenges hospitals and trusts are under at the moment.

“Taken together, increased duty on cider, minimum unit pricing and the reinstatement of the alcohol duty escalator would be good for the population’s health, and ease the burden on healthcare professionals.

“Importantly, these measures would also provide economic benefits. We know that if we reduced the burden on health and society of cheap alcohol, employers would benefit from a more productive workforce, as people live longer and healthier lives.”