Brewers plan code on alcoholic soft drinks

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The Independent Online
JOHN McKIE Brewers are to respond to criticism that their marketing of alcoholic "soft" drinks encourages under-age drinking. On Wednesday, the Portman Group, the representative body of the brewing industry, will meet to discuss a government-backed voluntary code of practice designed to cut down on teenage drinking.

The brewing industry has come under fire for its marketing of "soft" drinks with alcoholic content which critics say has led to an increase in underage alcohol consumption. Last week Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, Nigel Griffiths, wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Director-General of Fair Trading for a full investigation into the marketing of such drinks.

He cited the example of the Caribbean drink Tilt, containing 5.5 per cent alcohol. Mr Griffiths says companies are attempting to infiltrate the pounds 6.2bn-a-year soft drinks market with alcoholic drinks. Teenagers account for 26 per cent of the market.

Mr Griffiths said he would like to see a mandatory code drawn up to ensure breweries act more responsibly in marketing their products.

He also wants immediate action to stop alcoholic drinks being sold in cold cabinets and convenience stores, alongside soft drinks.

"If the objective is to blur the distinction between alcohol and popular soft drinks, then that raises serious questions," Mr Griffiths said.

"There are genuine fears of an explosion in teenage drinking. The real danger is that young people will move from soft drinks to alcohol and hardly realise it. Many youngsters are initially put off alcohol by the taste ... By marketing alcohol in a range of soft drink flavours they are giving it an immediate appeal to people who have never drunk alcohol."

Bass, which brews the alcoholic lemonade Hooper's Hooch, has been attacked, particularly after the news that it intends to introduce orange and blackcurrant versions of the drink, with an alcoholic content higher than Hooch's current 4.7 per cent.

Ian Morris, Bass's director of communications, said last night: "Their content will only be slightly higher, no more than 5 per cent. Hooch is targeted at adults and there's no reason why alcoholic drinks with blackcurrant and orange shouldn't be thought of like a drink with apple, like cider, or a drink with grapes, like wine.

"We have worked with the Portman Group to cut down alcohol misuse, especially with underage drinking."

Mr Griffiths has already criticised the code for being "half-hearted". He said: "The code, such as it is, is a reflection of a new realism by brewers that if they don't get to grips with this themselves they know a Labour government won't hesitate to legislate."

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