Brewers act to dilute 'soft' drinks criticism

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A group representing the drinks industry yesterday announced a code of practice for the naming, labelling and promotion of alcoholic "soft" drinks.

But the move was immediately dismissed as "toothless" by Labour's Consumer Affairs spokesman, Nigel Griffiths.

The Portman Group said yesterday that all the leading brewers had agreed to a code of practice, in the wake of criticism that the marketing of such drinks could lead to a rise in under-age drinking. But although the main breweries agreed that a code should be introduced, they have not yet agreed to the proposals put forward yesterday by the group's chairman, Dr John Rae.

These included a ban on characters or designs likely to attract younger people and a clear distinction between drinks associated with childhood and alcoholic drinks. This would affect the most successful brand, Bass's Hooch, which is marketed with a smiling lemon. It sells around 2 million bottles and cans a week.

A Bass spokeswoman, Lesley Allman, said: "We are keen that a code of practice is put in place but it would be premature to comment on specific proposals."

Mr Griffiths attacked the proposed code for failing to control drinks marketed by smaller brewers, who are not Portman members. Only two of the 30 "soft" drinks that Mr Griffiths has identified - Hooch and Aqua V - are manufactured by group members. "The Government has washed its hands of this problem," he said. "Advertising rules over alcohol have been flouted, the Portman Group is a toothless group and the Government is in the pockets of the brewing industry."

A Home Office spokesman confirmed that the Government was "looking at the problem as a matter of urgency".