Tax hike on super-strength drinks ‘will save lives’

A homelessness leader has hailed the government's decision to increase taxes on high-strength beer, saying it will save the lives of vulnerable people.

A homelessness leader has hailed the government’s decision to increase taxes on high-strength beer, saying it will save the lives of vulnerable people.

The government announced yesterday that beer stronger than 7.5% alcohol by volume will be subject to a higher duty from autumn 2011.

The level of increased taxation will not be revealed until the 2011 Budget next spring, though there is speculation that it will mean that a four-pack of Tennent’s Super lager will increase in price by £1.50.

Homelessness charity Thames Reach, which has spearheaded a five-year campaign for a hike in duty, said this would help save the lives of “homeless and marginalised people addicted to these cheap and dangerous drinks”.

Chief executive Jeremy Swain said: “Scientific studies consistently prove that people’s drinking behaviour is affected by price and our experience is that people with serious alcohol addictions move over to weaker, cheaper lagers and ciders when their access to super-strength drinks is curtailed. From there, it is much easier to help them take further steps towards abstinence and recovery.”

The damage from excessive consumption of these drinks can include organic brain damage (Korsakoff’s syndrome) and liver damage.

Thames Reach has found evidence that people as young as 35 have died from problems related to these drinks.

These individuals are commonly referred to as “the young olds”, who, though in their thirties and forties, have the physical health of someone over retirement age.

Swain said the super-strength drinks had become “the biggest killer of homeless people in the UK, responsible for more deaths amongst the rough sleeping population than crack cocaine or heroin”.

In an article in Community Care earlier this year, drinkers revealed how quickly they had become addicted to the strong drinks.

Strong ciders are exempted from the duty hike.

The government argued that recently introduced secondary legislation requiring a 35% minimum juice content for products to qualify as cider for duty purposes will increase the price of so-called white ciders.

Thames Reach said it also believed that this may also force manufacturers of white cider brands, such as White Ace, to rebrand or withdraw their drinks from sale.

The government rejected a system that would have seen all alcohol products pay tax based upon their alcohol content.

It argued this would require increasing the rates of duty on cider by as much as 250% and those on beer by around 40% and would therefore significantly penalise responsible drinkers.

It was also doubtful whether this would achieve the aim of reducing problem drinking.

Tax on low alcohol beers with a strength of 2.8% or less will be reduced.

Related stories

The damage that super-strength drinks do to people’s lives

The high price of cheap lager

I used to drink about 15-plus cans of super-strength lager a day

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