UK

'Pocket money' drink prices worry campaigners

Teenage girls drinking alcohol Image copyright Thinkstock

Alcohol is being sold at "pocket money" prices across the UK, with products commonly bought by underage drinkers among the cheapest, research by a campaign group suggests.

The Alcohol Health Alliance said white cider - sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol - is favoured by teens.

Ministers say they are still reviewing a minimum pricing policy for alcohol.

A separate report said the underage drinking among girls in Britain is "significantly" above average.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study of its 35 member countries found that 31% of 15-year-old girls reported having been drunk at least twice, compared with 26% of boys (which is in line with the OECD average).

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), a grouping of more than 40 organisations including medical colleges and health charities, surveyed the cost of 480 products on sale in major supermarkets and off-licences in London, north-east England, north-west-England and Scotland.

Its research found both Asda and Tesco to be selling perry at 19p per unit, while the same drink was available at Sainsbury's for 22p per unit. Morrisons was selling cider at 20p per unit.

Multi-packs of beer or lager were also available in some supermarkets for 23p a unit, vodka was on sale for 36p a unit and wine for 32p a unit.

The AHA said harmful drinkers and children were tending to choose the cheapest products, predominantly white cider and cheap vodka.

A three-litre bottle of cider on sale at the Bargain Booze chain for £3.49 contained 22.5 units of alcohol, it pointed out.

"While the lowest price we report is 16p per unit, we found a broad range of products on sale for 25p or less, which is half the 50p minimum unit price recommended by health bodies and alcohol charities," the AHA added.

'Under review'

The chairman of the AHA, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "In spite of a government commitment to tackle cheap, high-strength alcohol, these products are still available at pocket money prices."

Calling for an increase in duty on cider, Prof Gilmore said: "In addition, we need minimum unit pricing. This would target the cheap, high strength products drunk by harmful drinkers whilst barely affecting moderate drinkers, and it would leave pub prices untouched."

Rules banning extreme discounting by shops have been introduced in England and Wales, but Government plans to bring in minimum pricing are still under consultation after being put on hold awaiting a legal challenge in Scotland.

The Scottish government passed a ruling on minimum pricing four years ago but this has yet to be introduced due to a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association and other European alcohol organisations.

The European Court of Justice ruled in 2015 that the proposals would be contrary to EU law if less restrictive tax options could be introduced, but said it would be for the Scottish courts to take a final decision.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The harms associated with excessive alcohol remain too high and current legislation prevents the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT.

"Minimum unit pricing will remain under review while we monitor legal developments and the implementation of this policy in Scotland."

NHS guidelines introduced in January state that both men and women in the UK should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, over the course of three days or more, and that some days should be alcohol-free.

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