The call to increase duty on white cider comes as figures from Balance reveal that, although the number of teenage drinkers is falling, the North East still has the highest rates of drinking among 11 to 15-year-olds, with almost 3,000 becoming regular drinkers every year.
A recent Balance study found that three-litre bottles of high-strength white cider, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, are available for as little as £3.99 in off-licences in the region, equating to a price of just 18p per unit.
Due to the low price and high strength of these ciders, children and homeless people, many of whom end up seeking help from specialist alcohol treatment services, account for almost all sales of the drink.
A recent public opinion survey carried out by the Alcohol Health Alliance revealed that 66 per cent of the public would support a duty increase on strong white cider.
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Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “In recent surveys carried out by Alcohol Concern, strong white cider is consistently in the top five drinks consumed by children requiring specialist alcohol treatment. It’s not right that our current tax system means that this industrial-strength white cider can be sold so cheaply, fuelling some of the worst problems we have with alcohol.
“We’re all paying a high price for these low-cost drinks. On a daily basis, alcohol treatment services across the North East are seeing children and adults suffering from the consequences of this cheap, strong alcohol, available at pocket-money prices. The only winner in all of this is the alcohol industry.”
Alongside duty increases, Balance is urging the Chancellor to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol and to reinstate the alcohol duty escalator, scrapped in 2014. The duty escalator sees the duty rate on all alcoholic drinks increase by two per cent above the rate of inflation every year.
Treasury figures show that tax cuts given to the alcohol industry over the past four Budgets will cost the public purse £790million in 2017/18 and a total of £2.9billion over five years. At the same time, it has been estimated that alcohol harm is costing UK society anywhere between £27billion and £52billion a year.