Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Super-strength drinks campaign

Thames Reach has been campaigning relentlessly since 2005 to get super-strength drinks taxed more heavily as medical studies indicate that people’s behaviour with respect to drinking is heavily influenced by the price of the products available. The campaign is not anti-alcohol but focuses on the fact that super-strength drinks are a breed apart from regular and premium strength drinks and aimed at people with drink problems.


Drugs and super strength
Photo of a super strength can and syringe.

Communications Manager, Mike Nicholas, said: “Thames Reach is aware of over 50 deaths directly attributable to super-strength drinks among the homeless people we help in the past three years alone.  Super-strength ciders and lagers have become one of the biggest killers of homeless people in the UK. They are responsible for the deaths of more homeless men and women than either heroin or crack cocaine.

“In wider society they are responsible for anti-social behaviour, crime and spiralling health costs.

“A single can of 9% lager contains a massive four and a half units of alcohol. It only takes one can to exceed the Government’s daily recommended safe alcohol limit of three to four units for men and two to three units for women.”

There have been some major successes – recently, the Coalition Government increased the tax on super-strength lagers, a move we welcome and one which follows on from talks Thames Reach had with the Treasury.

Thames Reach has also been calling on the drinks industry to behave more responsibly and behave in line with their corporate social responsibility policies.

Mike Nicholas, said: “Again there have been some successes with Heineken removing White Lightening – known as White Frightening among street drinker – and super-strength Strongbow Black from their range of drinks, citing its poor reputation for being linked with problem drinkers. This follows on from a visit by their staff to one of our hostels which houses former rough sleepers with drink issues. It’s a brave move and one that we applaud, especially at a time when the recession threatens profits.

“However there is still a big problem with other super-strength ciders white ciders.”

The producers of white cider are exploiting tax breaks intended to help the cider industry develop orchards growing traditional cider apples, whilst sometimes using importing apple concentrate from abroad.

The result has been extremely cheap super-strength white ciders at 7.5% becoming the drink of choice for many.

According to Mike Nicholas: “The last Government pledged to tackle the growing menace but instead of targeting super-strength white ciders, hit the whole cider industry including the regular strength ciders sold in pubs, with a 10% above inflation tax hike. The result was an outcry which led to the plans being dropped. Probably rightly so, but this has led to the more unscrupulous elements of the drinks industry being able to exploit this to carry on producing these dangerous super-strength white ciders at extremely cheap prices.”

In the recent years, wholesale companies have flooded corner shops and off licences across the UK with very cheap and very strong super-strength ciders.

Unlike the big drinks companies, these wholesale companies appear to be entirely unregulated. None of them are sighed up to the Portman Group, the drinks industry self-regulatory body, and don’t appear to have any corporate social responsibility guidelines.

Companies such as Bestway have flooded their local markets across the UK (including London) with their own products such as White Ace. Although they don’t advertise to the public via TV ads, they aggressively market these drinks at heavily discounted prices to off licences and corner stores. See attachment.

The result is these stores stacking large quantities of these super-strength ciders which become the drink of choice for many.

Only 20 years ago these drinks simply weren’t available and cider was generally much weaker in strength.

Mike Nicholas, added: “Are we happy as a society for these super-strength drinks to receive tax breaks and be so widely available, with the appalling consequences that this entails?

“Critics would argue that any campaign to hit the trade in super-strength drinks would see a switch to other dangerous drinks. Our own experience in our projects where we try to encourage people to either give up alcohol or minimise the harm they are doing to themselves through alcohol consumption, has in fact seen real improvements in people’s health and behaviour when they switch to regular and premium strength drinks.”

20,000 rough sleepers have been helped off the streets by homelessness charities in London over the past ten years. Many ended up on the streets because of an addiction to alcohol. The vast majority of the homeless people with alcohol addictions were super-strength cider and lager drinkers. Sadly many have died. Others, perhaps in their forties and fifties, are now coined ‘the young olds’ as their physical and mental health is more typical of people much older – liver disease, brain damage and double incontinence are typical problems.

Mike Nicholas, said: “We have a well established beer and cider drinking culture in the UK and we don’t wish to challenge that. We just don’t think that super-strength drinks should be so cheap and so strong and marketed towards people with drink problems. Super-strength white ciders are far cheaper than alcopops which the media often focus on. Of course alcoholism won’t completely disappear if these super-strength drinks disappear but we can rescue future generations of teenagers from developing dangerous drinking habits.”

What do you think?

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For more information on this campaign please contact the Thames Reach press office on 020 3664 9562 or  07816 113 420 or via email.

Alcohol Concern White Cider Report 2011
Alcohol Concern White Cider Report 2011 - [181 KB] Download the Alcohol Concern White Cider and Street Drinkers research report.