UK to raise tax on high-strength alcohol


EXCISE DUTIES on high-strength alcoholic drinks in the United Kingdom will be increased next year, while those applying to low-alcohol drinks will be reduced under plans announced yesterday.

The price of drinks containing more than 7.5 per cent alcohol will be increased from next autumn, while those with less than 2.8 per cent will be cut to reduce over-consumption, health secretary Andrew Lansley told MPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman refused to indicate the scale of the extra taxation, but said it would be enough to “influence” the behaviour of drinkers. “The intention is to incentivise people to make different choices,” he said. There were indications last night that the minimum price of a bottle of wine would be set at about £2, a litre of spirits no lower than £10.50, while a pack of 20 beers would be £9.20. Currently, some cheap lagers can be bought for 29 pence a pint.

“Too many people die too young, spending too long suffering from preventable ill-health, such as through alcohol abuse. The failures of policy to date are clear to see, as we have 1.6 million people dependent on alcohol,” said Mr Lansley. He also indicated that he favoured the Australian example of forcing cigarette manufacturers to sell their brands in plain packets. “We have a level of smoking that leads to about 80,000 deaths a year,” he said. “We have to reduce the extent to which young people start smoking, and one of the issues is the extent to which display of cigarettes and brands draws young people into smoking in the first place.”

However, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association Chris Ogden said: “Plain packs are also likely to lead to further increases in smuggling and plain packs would make it much easier for a counterfeiter.”

Mr Lansley insisted that the government would not repeat the “nannying” declarations of Labour’s 13 years in power. “It’s time for politicians to stop telling people to make healthy choices, and time to start actually helping them to do it. Rather than nannying people, we will nudge them by working with industry to make healthy lifestyles easier.

“Rather than lecturing people about their habits, we will give them the support they need to make their own choices,” he said, adding that local authorities would be given powers to take the lead on public health for which £4 billion would be ring-fenced.

President of the Royal College of Physicians Richard Thompson welcomed the greater focus on public health, but criticised the lack of detail in the plan: “On a whole raft of issues it has been clearly demonstrated that a laissez faire attitude does not work, either in terms of promoting responsible behaviour among the manufacturers and retailers of potentially harmful products, or in creating an environment that would allow individuals to make healthier choices.”