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24 September 2014
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Superstrength canned drinks

Superstrength - fears for heavy drinkers

Super strength alcoholic drinks

Inside Out takes a look at the effects of super strength lager and cider on long term drinkers. We meet of the users of high strength low cost alcohol who are speaking out against the liquid they say is killing them.

Super strength drinks are commonly known as "tramp juice" and they're normally associated with "drinking schools" or with severe alcoholics.

In one London hostel, management say that 24 out of 30 deaths in two years were directly caused by super strength.

They say the reason people are dying is that alcoholics are buying 9% proof lager and 7.5% proof cider at rock-bottom prices and then spending all day binge drinking it in large volumes.

Inside Out met some of the users of high strength low cost alcohol. They say they hate it but can't do without it.

Some want it to be removed from sale altogether so that it is kept out of their reach.

Super strength - a growing industry

Before moving to a hostel, Kevin lived for six years in a churchyard in South London.

Even though he was destitute, he could still afford to drink between eight and 10 cans of super strength lager every day.

Kevin says he drinks it not because of the taste of it, "You drink it because of the volume".

Man drinking Superstrength can

Strong brew - Kevin and super strength.

The reason alcoholics choose these brands of super strength is that they are easily available all day at just over £1 a can.

It's hard to resist the temptation when they are very cleverly marketed through what's known as "Point of Sale" promotion.

It's a multi-million-pound industry - the drinks are sold in large amounts, mostly in local shops.

Audrey Mitchell from the homelessness charity Thames Reach alerted Inside Out to an alarming trend.

A number of small off-licenses across London are allowing severely ill alcoholics who are on benefits credit - and then charging interest when the money for their incapacity or unemployment arrives in their accounts.

Moderation or excess?

Dave, who lives in a hostel in Vauxhall, told us that he regularly gets beer "on tic".

Hostel residents

Heavy drinkers - huge risks.

We also found another hostel resident being given beer by a local off license to sell on to his friends.

A single 500ml can of these drinks contains four and a half units of alcohol.

This exceeds the Government's daily safe alcohol limit of three to four units for men and two to three units for women.

The super strength lagers being targeted include Tennent's Super, Carlsberg Special Brew, Skol Super and Kestrel Super.

Carlsberg UK told us that "Special Brew" is 70% used by older professionals in management positions, and drunk in moderation.

The large brewers are self-regulated by "The Portman Group", who deal with any complaints about the marketing of alcohol.

Super strength alcohol

Current super strength lager sales amount to around £150 million per annum.

The main popular super strength lagers at 9%, all brewed by major drinks companies, include Tennent's Super, Carlsberg Special Brew, Skol Super and Kestrel Super.

Carlsberg Special Brew was the only super strength on the market prior to the 1980s.

Tennent's Super is the super strength lager most commonly associated with street drinking. In 2001 off licence sales of Tennent's Super in the UK were £44 million.

Of the 4,000 individuals that Thames Reach worked with in 2005, 47% were found to have an alcohol misuse problem and around 800 individuals were addicted to super strength lagers and ciders.

Lobbyists say super strength drinks contribute to premature deaths and the phenomenon of 'young-olds' where people exhibit the health problems of people 20-30 years older than their biological age.

Thames Reach's frontline services say they have considerable evidence of the rapid deterioration in health caused by super strength alcohol.

Thames Reach is calling for a new 6% strength ceiling on the alcohol content for canned and bottled super strength lagers and ciders.

Source: Thames Reach

David Poley, its Chief Executive says: "There's no reason really to suppose that these drinks don't have a market amongst responsible adult drinkers.

"Yes, they are also consumed by people with alcohol dependency problems - that does not necessarily mean that they are irresponsibly marketed".

However, the lobbyists have just won a small victory.

Inbev, who manufacture "Tennents Super", have just announced that they are reducing the size of their cans.

In April 2008 InBev UK announced that after careful consideration they would no longer be producing Tennent's Super in 500ml cans - and they will be moving to 440ml in the first quarter of 2008.

It says, "Tennent's Super is brewed to be enjoyed in moderation. It is the individuals responsibility to monitor the number of units of alcohol that they drink."

The government says work is going on behind the scenes to tackle the binge drinking culture through meetings with the drinks industry.

A report will also be published later in 2008.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Tackling the culture of harmful and binge drinking is a priority for the government which is why the Home Office is reviewing how the alcohol industry is applying its own social responsibility standards to check that commitments are being fulfilled.

"We will consider regulatory change in future, if necessary".

Jeremy Swain from Thames Reach insists change cannot come soon enough:

"Until we see these drinks taken off the shelves we'll see more and more deaths.

"There's four people in this hostel we're sitting in who are about to die and it's directly because of super strength lager".

The social side effects of super strength are of such concern to Westminster and Ealing Councils that they have persuaded large supermarkets to remove these drinks from their shelves.

They feel that street drinking schools will no longer congregate when these drinks aren't available.

Super strength fears

In the Commons an Early Day Motion tabled by Battersea MP Martin Linton is calling on the Government to curb the sale of super strength lagers by taxing them at a higher rate.

It has attracted all-party support.

"I would have thought that any self-respecting drinks company would want nothing to do with these drinks," says Jeremy Swain.

But for many heavy drinkers and hostel residents a crackdown on super strength may come too late... 

Location of the week - Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Gallery was founded in 1811 through the bequest of a collection of paintings that was left to Dulwich College.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Art treasures - Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The collection had been put together over some 30 years by Sir Peter Bourgeois, and his mentor, Noel Desenfans, an art historian and dealer.

The founders effectively invented the modern concept of a public art gallery, and surely earned the glory of their Mausoleum.

Dulwich Picture Gallery predates the foundation of the National Gallery by 13 years, and was in fact England's very first public art gallery.

last updated: 02/05/2008 at 15:14
created: 01/05/2008

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