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alcohol health alliance uk

MP backs calls to raise tax on cheap, strong cider


Colin Shevills (Director of Balance) and Joanne Good

Posted 01/03/17

North Tyneside MP, Mary Glindon, is backing calls to increase duty on cheap, high-strength white cider after meeting a mother who tragically lost her daughter after she drank strong white cider at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party.

Mrs Glindon today (Wednesday 1 March) raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions after she met Joanne Good, 38, from Dudley, North Tyneside, at an event in Parliament last week. Joanne bravely shared her story at the event, which was attended by a number of MPs and designed to illustrate the harms of cheap, high-strength white cider.

At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs Glindon highlighted the heartbreaking story of how Joanne’s 16-year-old daughter Megan died after drinking half a 3 litre bottle of cheap white cider, which is 7.5% volume, and, at under £4 a bottle contains the equivalent of 22 vodka shots.

A favourite drink for children and dependent drinkers, Mrs Glindon asked the Prime Minister whether she accepts that cheap, high-strength white cider is a health hazard and should be banned or, at the very least, carry a much higher duty per unit?

While the Prime Minister acknowledged the harms associated with problem consumption of alcohol, in her response she referred to measures already in place which have failed to stop products such as the strong white cider being sold at pocket money prices.

Mrs Glindon, commented: “Joanne’s heartbreaking story demonstrates the devastating impact cheap white cider can have on families in our communities and it was something I felt needed to be raised directly with the Prime Minister.

“Yet the response from the Prime Minister today was extremely disappointing. The measures she quoted have clearly failed to keep alcohol from being sold at pocket money prices. The reality is that strong white cider attracts a lower duty per unit of any alcohol product and is damaging people in our communities right now, long after the measures the Prime Minister referred to were introduced.

“Indeed under the ban on below cost sales, these products can still be sold for as little as 5p per unit. This means a three litre bottle of strong white cider could be sold for just £1.10. The Prime Minister needs to look again at the way the system is taxed.

“Joanne has to live every day with the absolute devastation of losing her Megan and with great courage, is now speaking out in the hope that she might save another family from having to go through such pain.

“This tragedy just highlights how dangerous this type of strong white cider is. There is strong evidence that these type of products cause the most harm to people, including vulnerable children and young people and dependent drinkers. It’s very worrying that the way the current tax system is means that such dangerous products can be sold so cheaply.

“Hearing a mother’s story is a powerful reminder of why we need to urgently see increases in duty on the cheapest, strongest, most harmful alcohol products. This wouldn’t affect moderate drinkers, but would go some of the way to protecting children and other vulnerable groups. The Government can make a difference and I would urge them to take action in the upcoming Budget.”

Joanne’s 16-year-old daughter Megan Craig-Wilkinson passed away after drinking 1.5 litres of strong white cider on New Year’s Eve 2013. Joanne spoke at the Parliamentary event to raise awareness of the dangers of these strong, cheap alcohol products, recalling how excited Megan was about going to the party with her friends, spending the day deciding what to wear and doing her hair and makeup.

Unbeknown to Joanne, a guest at the house party had brought some super-strength white cider, a drink Joanne would never have allowed Megan to try at home because of its strong alcohol content.

That tragic night, Megan came home early because she had been sick. At home she was chatting about boys and texting her friends, but because she had been sick, Joanne put her in the recovery position when she went to tuck her up in bed, sitting with her until she went to sleep.

The next morning, New Year’s Day, Megan didn’t wake up. The coroner’s report later ruled that she had died in her sleep from pulmonary aspiration or ‘dry drowning’. Megan’s stomach contents had travelled to her lungs after the alcohol in her system had prevented the normal preventative gag reflex from happening.

Joanne decided to speak out after seeing a campaign run by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, calling on the Government to increase the tax on strong white cider in this year’s Budget on March 8th.

A recent study from Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, found that three litre bottles of high-strength white cider, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, are available for as little as £3.99 in off licences in the region, equating to a price of just 18p per unit.

High strength white ciders, such as Frosty Jack’s and White Ace, currently have a lower duty per unit than any other alcohol product and a targeted rise in duty would leave 80 percent of cider sales unaffected.

A recent public opinion survey carried out by the Alcohol Health Alliance revealed that 66 percent of the public would support a duty increase on strong white cider.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “Joanne has shown amazing courage in sharing her story to raise awareness of the dangers of cheap white cider.

“It’s not right that our current tax system means industrial strength white cider can be sold so cheaply. Because it’s so affordable and easily available, it is often the drink of choice for some of the most vulnerable members of society, including young people and dependent drinkers. As is all too clear to see, these high-strength drinks are devastating lives and causing some of the worst alcohol-related harms.

“The response from the Prime Minister to the question MP Mary Glindon posed today was very disappointing and failed to address the real issue. We urgently need the Government to take action to protect our children by increasing duty on high-strength cider at the next Budget.

“There’s also very little being done to raise awareness of the harms alcohol can cause. This Government can do so much more. Alcohol causes over one million hospital admissions, is linked to 200 conditions including cancer and is linked to almost half of violent crime – yet it is years since alcohol advertisements have appeared on TV warning of the dangers.”