Health coalition calling for even higher duty on drinks

02 November, 2007

Lobby group also wants a blanket ban on alcohol adverts before 9pm

Retailers and trade bodies have attacked calls by a lobbying group for an increase in alcohol duty.

The push by the Alcohol Health Alliance - a coalition of health organisations and charities - has been criticised as wrongly linking binge-drinking to levels of alcohol taxation.

The group, headed by the Royal College of Physicians' president, Professor Ian Gilmore, has been set up to put pressure on the government to increase tax on alcohol and to ban pre-watershed alcohol advertising. It is also calling for health warnings on alcohol adverts and promotions in a bid to curb irresponsible drinking.

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the WSTA, attacked proposals to raise alcohol tax. "We think their proposals about tax are completely wrong and the evidence supports us in this," he said.

WSTA policy advisor Stephen Hogg questioned the AHA's evidence. "All the indicators at the moment suggest that higher taxation is at best a blunt weapon and at worst can be counter-productive and lead to unintended consequences," he said.

Rhythm & Booze joint managing director Martin Swaine said the proposal would not put a stop to binge drinking. "Cost prices have been going up every year, but consumption levels continue to increase," Swaine said. Banning the sale of alcohol below cost would be a more effective deterrent, he added.

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: "The international evidence is clear: simply raising alcohol taxes, penalising the vast majority of responsible consumers, will do nothing to resolve the cultural tolerance of excessive drinking.

"The UK already has the third-highest rate of spirits duty in the EU. While Sweden has even higher duties, it continues to face serious alcohol misuse issues. Lower taxes in southern Europe are not causing the problems we face in the UK."

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers has questioned the alliance's move to introduce a blanket ban on alcohol advertising before 9pm. ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn called the proposals "a knee jerk reaction" and said it was "not the answer to preventing alcohol misuse".

AHA UK, which is expected to officially launch later this month, is made up of 22 health groups, including Alcohol Concern, Action on Addiction, the Medical Council on Alcohol and the British Liver Trust. Although talks are at an early stage, it is understood that a number of MPs will also be involved in the lobby group.

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