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Mum backs calls to raise tax on cheap white cider

Joanne Good

Mum Joanne Good is backing Balance's campaign

Posted 23/02/17

North Tyneside mum Joanne Good lost her daughter Megan Craig-Wilkinson on January 1st 2014. Megan passed away after drinking super-strength white cider at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. She's now backing our calls to increase duty on strong white ciders.

Joanne, from Dudley and also mum to Aidan, 16, Amelia, 10, and Hannah, nine, is sharing Megan’s story to raise awareness of the dangers of high-strength, low-cost white cider.

Joanne, who is now 38, said: “Megan was my eldest daughter. She was 16 at the time we lost her and would have been 19 now. She wasn’t a typical teenager; she knew her own mind and had a strong sense of morals. I trusted her and I never worried that she would do something stupid.

“Megan had a small group of friends and was very loyal towards them but she was a bit of a home-bird really. She’d often stay in with us and we’d watch TV as a family, or she’d be in the kitchen watching her step-father Michael cooking, while chatting away to us. She loved singing and her favourite subject at school was history, she wanted to be a history teacher when she left school.

“She was very excited about the New Year’s Eve party she was going to. It was at her close friend’s house, they had grown up together, and she spent the day deciding what to wear and doing her hair and makeup. She’d been to a couple of parties there in the six months before and I had no reason to worry about her going to this one.”

Like all parents trying to do the best for their children, Joanne knew that alcohol was something teenagers are often tempted to try. Megan had previously had a drink or two in the house, with Joanne keeping a watchful eye. Like many parents, Joanne thought that this was the responsible thing to do, promoting a measured attitude to drinking and allowing alcohol only in a safe, controlled environment.

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

Joanne continued: “Megan arrived home in a taxi before midnight – it was around 11.50pm. We were all still up because it was new year and her brother Aidan saw her getting out of the taxi. We knew she had had too much to drink because she was sick when she got in and she was open and told us that was why she had come home early. But she was also texting her friends, chatting to us about boys and generally seemed her usual self – that was why there were no alarm bells ringing. I’ve seen people far worse on a night out.

“Although Megan could stand up and talk and generally seemed ok, after she had taken herself to bed I went up to tuck her in and I put her in the recovery position. I put some cushions behind her back to keep her on her side just in case there was any chance she might be sick again. Then I sat with her until she went to sleep before going back downstairs.”

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.

The toxicology report confirmed Megan had drank 1.5 liters of white cider – just half of one of the 3 litre bottles in which super strength cider is usually sold.

Joanne continued: “I went into Megan’s room that morning. She just looked like she was asleep but I touched her and she was cold. We called the ambulance straight away but when they got to us they told us it was too late and that we had already lost her. I laid with her for as long as I could. The shock for the whole family was huge and it still is; my heart hurts every day.”

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. Joanne got in touch with Balance and as a result will now be travelling to Parliament to share her story with MPs at an event highlighting the dangers of white cider on Wednesday February 22nd.

Joanne added: “I struggle with what happened on a daily basis and it’s had a huge impact on myself and my family. For a long time I’ve wanted to share Megan’s story in the hope that other young people will hear it and that maybe because of me speaking out, I might save another family from having to go through what we have been through.

“I thought that we had done everything we possibly could to educate Megan about the dangers of drinking and to look after her that night. We know Megan drank a lot of water at the party after realising she’d had too much cider, which we thought was the right thing to do. Later we found out that having so much liquid on her stomach could have played a part in what happened.

“No matter what we say to our children, they will always want to experiment and this type of cheap, strong cider will always appeal because it can easily be bought from their pocket money, but parents just aren’t aware of the risks. I hope that by sharing our story we can highlight just how dangerous this type of strong cider is.

“If it was up to me, I would like to see ciders like these removed from sale. Aside from what happened to Megan, every child that drinks it is doing damage to their bodies.

“If it can’t be removed from sale, then I think it should be kept behind the counter where the spirits are and the price should be increased. The price needs to take into account how big the bottles are and how much alcohol is in them. Hopefully this would put children off from drinking it and maybe a life could be saved.”

Dr Guy Pilkington, Assistant Chair of NHS Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There is really good evidence that these very cheap sources of alcohol are the ones that cause most harm to people. In my working life I see people who are damaging themselves and others with their use of alcohol. Those most vulnerable to cheap alcohol are the young, the poorest and those living with significant mental health issues. Historically the duty on cider is significantly less than on other forms of alcohol and in my view manufacturers are cynically using that to create products that may sell well, but also harm people every single day.

“We know affordability is strongly linked to alcohol consumption and the duty on white cider does not reflect the harm that this type of high strength cheap alcohol does to the people that I see day in, day out. Alcohol has links to more than 60 medical conditions, and while this type of low-cost high-volume alcohol brings a number of health problems in itself, it also makes children and adults hugely vulnerable and at risk of further harm.

“If we want to reduce harm and protect our children and other vulnerable groups then it is vital to raise duty on the cheapest, most harmful types of alcohol.”