European health group calls for 'rational' alcohol taxing

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcohol, Alcoholic beverage

All EU governments should consider following the UK in increasing
tax on alcoholic beverages, though on the basis of charging alcohol
content rather than product definition, according to a senior
member of a European alcohol policy forum.

Andrew McNeill, honorary secretary for the group Eurocare told that a tax structure that charged drink on the level of alcohol present would offer a more "rational" means to encourage responsible drinking than a flat rate. He was not optimistic that any such system was likely to be adopted by European government and industry any time soon, if at all. McNeill stressed that wine industry, which is more protected from taxes due to its agricultural status, would also have to comply with any such focus. The comments followed yesterday's announcement by UK chancellor Alistair Darling that the government will impose a six per cent increase above the inflation rate on alcohol duties as part of the annual budget for the country. McNeill said that although the chancellor himself made no reference to health as a reason for the increase, the development was nonetheless a welcome development in the fight against irresponsible drinking. Excessive consumption of alcohol is estimated to kill 200,000 Europeans a year, according to EU figures. This pattern is attributed predominantly to men aged 15 - 29 with one in four of alcohol related deaths coming from this demographic. Though women were found to fair better in the study, estimates still claim that alcohol is responsible for the death of one in ten females belonging to the same age group. McNeill added that while taxing alcohol by itself may not be a standalone solution for irresponsible drinking, any government strategy that did not considering using duty to restrict alcohol intake was "deficient" in terms of its scope. "No government that is serious about reducing alcohol related harm can afford to not consider the strategy,"​ he said. The budget ​ However, in addressing parliament with his budgetary speech yesterday, the UK chancellor stressed that it was cost factors and not explicitly health that had encouraged him to lift taxes on drink. Darling told the country's politicians that rising incomes in recent years had inevitably led to alcohol becoming increasingly affordable. "In 1997, the average bottle of wine bought in a supermarket was £4.45 in today's prices,"​ he stated. "If you go into a supermarket today, the average bottle of wine will cost about £4."​ Darling therefore added that of next week, beer prices would rise by 4 pence (p) a pint, cider would increase by 3p a litre, wine by 14p a bottle and spirits by 55p per bottle. Industry fight back ​ In anticipating possible tax hikes, members of the UK's spirit industry in recent months have been quick to condemn any potential further tax increases. Just last month, Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (WSA) claimed that the notion of using of higher duties to tackle alcohol misuse was misplaced and that cooperation was a more effective plan. "We are working with governmentto promote responsible attitudes to alcohol,"​ he stated at the time. These reservations were shared by fellow industry group, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which claimed that government figures had already indicated a fall in UK alcohol consumption, particularly amongst men. According to figures released by the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS), last year only 32 per cent of men were found to have exceeded the recommended daily intake of three to four units of alcohol, a here per cent fall since 2005. The number of women drinking above these guidance levels was up by a single percentage point over the same period, according to the findings. WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles claimed that the findings proved alcohol consumption was declining in the country and that increased taxes on the industry were therefore not required. "The message of responsible drinking is continuing to get out as the long-term trends on alcohol consumption continue to improve,"​ he stated. "It is also clear that the vast majority of people drink sensibly and should not be punished for the sins of a small minority."

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