Thames Reach has been campaigning
relentlessly since 2005 to get super-strength drinks taxed more heavily as
medical studies indicate that people’s behaviour with respect to drinking is
heavily influenced by the price of the products available. The campaign is not
anti-alcohol but focuses on the fact that super-strength drinks are a breed
apart from regular and premium strength drinks and aimed at people with drink
Communications Manager, Mike Nicholas, said:
“Thames Reach is aware of over 50 deaths directly attributable to
super-strength drinks among the homeless people we help in the past three years
alone. Super-strength ciders and lagers have become one of the biggest
killers of homeless people in the UK. They are responsible for the deaths of
more homeless men and women than either heroin or crack cocaine.
“In wider society they are responsible for
anti-social behaviour, crime and spiralling health costs.
“A single can of 9% lager contains a massive
four and a half units of alcohol. It only takes one can to exceed the
Government’s daily recommended safe alcohol limit of three to four units for
men and two to three units for women.”
There have been some major successes – recently,
the Coalition Government increased the tax on super-strength lagers, a move we
welcome and one which follows on from talks Thames Reach had with the Treasury.
Thames Reach has also been calling on the
drinks industry to behave more responsibly and behave in line with their
corporate social responsibility policies.
Mike Nicholas, said: “Again there have been
some successes with Heineken removing White Lightening – known as White Frightening
among street drinker – and super-strength Strongbow Black from their range of
drinks, citing its poor reputation for being linked with problem drinkers. This
follows on from a visit by their staff to one of our hostels which houses
former rough sleepers with drink issues. It’s a brave move and one that we
applaud, especially at a time when the recession threatens profits.
“However there is still a big problem with
other super-strength ciders white ciders.”
The producers of white cider are exploiting
tax breaks intended to help the cider industry develop orchards growing
traditional cider apples, whilst sometimes using importing apple concentrate
The result has been extremely cheap
super-strength white ciders at 7.5% becoming the drink of choice for many.
According to Mike Nicholas: “The last
Government pledged to tackle the growing menace but instead of targeting
super-strength white ciders, hit the whole cider industry including the regular
strength ciders sold in pubs, with a 10% above inflation tax hike. The result
was an outcry which led to the plans being dropped. Probably rightly so, but
this has led to the more unscrupulous elements of the drinks industry being
able to exploit this to carry on producing these dangerous super-strength white
ciders at extremely cheap prices.”
In the recent years, wholesale companies
have flooded corner shops and off licences across the UK with very cheap and
very strong super-strength ciders.
Unlike the big drinks companies, these
wholesale companies appear to be entirely unregulated. None of them are sighed
up to the Portman Group, the drinks industry self-regulatory body, and don’t
appear to have any corporate social responsibility guidelines.
Companies such as Bestway have flooded their
local markets across the UK (including London) with their own products such as
White Ace. Although they don’t advertise to the public via TV ads, they
aggressively market these drinks at heavily discounted prices to off licences
and corner stores. See attachment.
The result is these stores stacking large
quantities of these super-strength ciders which become the drink of choice for
Only 20 years ago these drinks simply
weren’t available and cider was generally much weaker in strength.
Mike Nicholas, added: “Are we happy as a
society for these super-strength drinks to receive tax breaks and be so widely
available, with the appalling consequences that this entails?
“Critics would argue that any campaign to
hit the trade in super-strength drinks would see a switch to other dangerous
drinks. Our own experience in our projects where we try to encourage people to
either give up alcohol or minimise the harm they are doing to themselves
through alcohol consumption, has in fact seen real improvements in people’s
health and behaviour when they switch to regular and premium strength drinks.”
20,000 rough sleepers have been helped off
the streets by homelessness charities in London over the past ten years. Many
ended up on the streets because of an addiction to alcohol. The vast majority
of the homeless people with alcohol addictions were super-strength cider and
lager drinkers. Sadly many have died. Others, perhaps in their forties and
fifties, are now coined ‘the young olds’ as their physical and mental health is
more typical of people much older – liver disease, brain damage and double
incontinence are typical problems.
Mike Nicholas, said: “We have a well
established beer and cider drinking culture in the UK and we don’t wish to
challenge that. We just don’t think that super-strength drinks should be so
cheap and so strong and marketed towards people with drink problems.
Super-strength white ciders are far cheaper than alcopops which the media often
focus on. Of course alcoholism won’t completely disappear if these
super-strength drinks disappear but we can rescue future generations of
teenagers from developing dangerous drinking habits.”