Weaker drinks 'to solve health problems', say councils
Weaker beers, ciders, wines and spirits are what is needed to tackle drink-related health problems, local councils have said.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has also called on ministers to extend tax breaks on lower-strength 2.8% beers to include ciders and wines.
The call has been welcomed by industry bodies.
The LGA represents 370 councils in England and Wales with responsibility for public health.
The cost to the NHS of dealing with excessive alcohol consumption is estimated to be £3.5bn a year, according to the LGA.
Tony Page, the licensing spokesman for the LGA, said: "Increasing the availability of zero alcohol and weaker strength drinks will help people live healthier lives by helping to control drinking levels and tackle the harm caused by excessive drinking.
"With a new generation of non-drinkers on the rise, there is a growing demand for greater choice in alcohol-free and weaker drinks, with several 'dry bars' opening up across the country.
"Tax breaks for beer have helped fuel a rise in low-strength products. This should now be extended to cider, wine and spirits."
He also said that drinking habits were changing and "brewers needed to capitalise on this by producing a range of different options" for people.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that excessive consumption of alcohol is also associated with violent crime.
In just over a half of all instances of violent crime in England and Wales in 2013-14, the victim believed that the perpetrator was drunk.
The LGA says widening the availability of low-strength and alcohol-free drinks would "revitalise pubs, which are closing at a rate of nearly 30 a week, and re-establish them as vibrant centres of communities".
There is also a growing number of non-drinkers, with one in five adults (21%) saying they do not drink alcohol at all - up from 19% in 2005.
- Duty is not charged on beer or cider below 1.2% alcohol by volume (ABV).
- In October 2011, a tax break for beers between 1.2% and 2.8% was introduced to "incentivise" the production and consumption of lower strength beer
- General beer duty applies to beer between 2.8% and 7.5%, with extra duty on beer stronger than 7.5%
- The basic rate of duty on cider is charged at strengths between 1.2% and 5.5% (sparkling) and between 1.2% and 7.5% (still) with higher rates above that.
- Duty on spirits is already directly proportional to its alcohol content, so a bottle of 40%-strength spirit would pay more duty than a bottle at 37.5%.
A spokesman for the Portman Group - which campaigns for the drinks industry on social responsibility - said: "We welcome this support for lower strength drinks.
"Official statistics show a decade-long decline in harmful drinking in the UK, and alcohol companies are committed to continuing this positive trend."
A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association said: "Lower taxes for lower strength drinks is a great idea, and we would support this principle for other drinks categories."
Earlier this year, tough new guidelines were issued on alcohol consumption, which said there was no such thing as a safe level of drinking.
The UK's chief medical officers said new research showed any amount of alcohol could increase the risk of cancer.
Their new advice says men and women who drink regularly should consume no more than 14 units a week - equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine. And pregnant women should not drink at all.