Brewers tighten code on `alcopop' marketing

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The Independent Online
Britain's seven largest brewers and distillers have widened their code of conduct on under-age drinking in an attempt to ensure alcohol is not marketed in a way that is appealing to children. The move comes amid claims that up to 17 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds drink regularly.

The code follows concern prompted earlier this year over the sale alcoholic versions of fruit-flavoured soft drinks known as "alcopops", including lemonade, which were deemed particularly appealing to the under-18s, and it extends the existing guidelines to cover all alcoholic drinks.

The Portman Group, the alcohol policy institute sponsored by the drinks industry which published the code, has called for a ban on any marketing that would appeal specifically to the under-18s. It also urges alcoholic drinks to be sold in bottles not cans to avoid confusion.

Dr John Rae, director of the Portman Group, said: "We are determined to see that alcoholic drinks are clearly aimed at an adult market. If reasonable people think the drinks are aimed primarily at young people under 18, the code has been broken." Despite the concern over alcopops,when under-18s attempt to purchase alcohol their first choice is either cider or beer, according to research commissioned by the Portman Group. It also found nine out of 10 shopkeepers said under-age purchasing had not increased since the fruit-flavoured drinks came on the market.

But the group had been accused by anti-alcohol campaigners of not going far enough to protect children with the code, which is voluntary. They have called for stricter enforcement of licensing laws, and "test purchase" of alcohol schemes at supermarkets and off-licences which would allow the police to work with young people.

Alcohol Concern, which campaigns against alcohol misuse, found that recent research showed 17 per cent of 11- to 15- year-olds admitted drinking regularly in 1994, before alcopops hit the market, compared with 13 per cent in 1990.

Eric Appleby, director of Alcohol Concern, said: "If the new code is to be anything more than a cosmetic public relations exercise, it must have more teeth and be rigorously monitored by an independent agency rather than the drinks trade itself."

He added: "There is no doubt that alcopops, with their sweet taste masking high alcohol contents, are attracting under-age drinkers, and that is something we cannot risk at a time when teenage drinking is on the increase."

n A gang known as "The Libyans" smuggled millions of pounds' worth of bootleg beer and wine into the UK for sale in cash and carry stores, a jury heard yesterday.

Under the leadership of a man code-named Gaddafi, the operation involved 50 hired vans and several seven-ton lorries, Maidstone Crown Court in Kent was told.

Working from a rented house and builder's yard in Deal, Kent, up to four vans would make twice daily trips across the Channel to buy beer and wine from hypermarkets in Calais.

The vans, "loaded to the gunwales", would then return to Deal. The drink would eventually be distributed in London.

Four men deny evading beer and wine duty, while 10 others have admitted the charge. The men were arrested in December 1994 after a Customs surveillance operation.

The trial continues.