Letter: Raise the price of alcopops

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report (17 May) that the Home Secretary is seriously concerned about the sale of alcopops, and has ordered an inquiry into the subject. Exclusively targeting alcopops is fraught with problems and, in any case, is unlikely to be effective in reducing alcohol abuse in the young.

The drinks industry decided a couple of years ago to increase sales by making its products more widely palatable and by giving them gimmicky names. It does not seem reasonable now to ask the drinks industry to make its drinks less palatable. The distinction between a gimmicky name likely to appeal to the young and one only appealing to older people is extremely difficult. No further legislation or guidance is likely to be more than marginally helpful in this field and, indeed, the publicity that controversy over the marketing of alcopops has created can only have increased their attractiveness to the young.

The Home Secretary should realise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has far more influence over the abuse of alcohol than he has. The level of alcohol abuse (drunkenness, alcohol-related deaths, illness and crime) is closely related to the total level of consumption. The amount young people drink is a close reflection of the consumption of the total population, though the young, and especially young women, are increasing their consumption more rapidly than the rest of us. Alcohol consumption is highly price- sensitive, and is especially so in the young. Current health education approaches in this field have only very modest effects.

There is a need for other measures, including more effective education, tighter controls to prevent children buying alcohol for themselves and, especially, much better provision of leisure facilities, but fiscal policy is the single most effective way to deal with this problem. Raising taxes on alcohol generally, but more on alcohol mixed with soft drinks and less on low-alcohol drinks, would inevitably have an effect on the pattern of consumption in the young.

Some other European countries would not like a higher taxation approach, but this could be one of those areas in which the UK could give a lead.

Professor PHILIP GRAHAM

Chair

National Children's Bureau

London EC1

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