Treasury refusing to think of children’s health over alcopops taxes, says Institute of Alcohol Studies

Higher taxes on alcohol – and particularly the alcopops
targeted at adolescents – would reduce the toll of binge-drinking among
young people. The Health Secretary, the Institute of Alcohol
Studies and nearly the entire health research community knows it – but
the Chancellor seemingly doesn’t, according to today’s Pre-Budget

The Institute of Alcohol Studies is today calling on the
Chancellor to consider the scientific evidence and raise taxes on all
alcoholic drinks, and particularly alcopops, when the final Budget comes
around in 2007.   Andrew McNeill, the Institute’s director, said “Taxes
will not revolutionize British drinking culture – but all the
scientific evidence shows they would be the strongest first step in
reducing levels of alcohol-related harm in our young people.”

This October, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt controversially revealed that she was asking the Chancellor to 
really increase taxes on alcohol, (…) particularly things like alcopops
and some of the stuff that quite a lot of teenage boys and girls are
drinking because we’ve got a real problem with binge drinking among
young people.”
 The Treasury in response suggested that to unravel
the current taxation structure in this way would take at least two years
and have to involve discussions with the European Commission. Yet taxes
on alcopops have already been successfully introduced in Denmark,
France, Germany, but also outside the EU, in Switzerland, making them
expensive than other drinks of the same strength.

In fact, Hewitt’s argument – later clarified as her ‘personal’
view – simply follows a number of august medical bodies, including the
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Royal College of
Physicians among others.  A wealth of scientific evidence shows that
higher taxes lead to lower levels of harm – from lower cirrhosis rates
to decreased levels of assault.  These effects are particularly strong for young people, who have less disposable income and are therefore more responsive to price.

Who drinks alcopops? 

Evidence from official Government research shows that among
boys, alcopops are most popular among underage drinkers – and even
amongst underage drinkers, they are more popular among 11-12 year olds
than ‘older’ drinkers at 15.  Among girls, alcopops (and spirits) are
the most popular drinks for all young girls and women aged 11 to 24 ,
but are much less popular with older age groups.  The two most popular
brands among 11-12 year olds for both boys and girls are alcopops – WKD
and Bacardi Breezer. 

However, taxation should be looked at in a broader context; in
England and Wales, for example, amongst young people aged 11 to 15
years old , 75% of girls’ and 85% of boys’ alcohol consumption was
centred on beer or cider, the most common drink for both genders.  As
the Institute’s chief economist, Gustavo Rinaldi, points out, “Tax
rises on alcopops will reduce consumption of only one type of drink, but
tax rises across the board are likely to have a stronger effect in
reducing alcohol-related harm in young people.”

Notes to Editors
The Institute of Alcohol Studies is an independent
organisation with the broad aim of increasing awareness of alcohol
related issues in society. The Institute of Alcohol Studies advocates
the prevention of alcohol related harm through effective evidence based
alcohol policy