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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Hewitt asks for alcohol tax rise
Image from the alcohol TV ad campaign
The government targets underage and binge drinkers in adverts
Tax on alcohol should rise to reduce binge drinking among teenagers, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said.

Ms Hewitt urged chancellor Gordon Brown to "really increase" taxes on alcohol, especially on drinks such as alcopops, most popular with young people.

She told children's paper First News it would stop teenagers spending money on drink and ending up in casualty.

But the drinks industry said taxation was not the solution and the government should address why young people drink.

The Treasury said Mr Brown routinely considered a "wide range" of suggestions on tax ahead of the Budget.

The Chancellor previously raised tax on alcopops in 2002 to put them into the same tax bracket as spirits.

High taxation is a relatively blunt instrument to deal with this complex problem
David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group

Ms Hewitt said: "We've got a real problem with binge drinking among young people.

"We've got enormous numbers of young people, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, ending up in the casualty department of hospitals because they're drunk.

"They've fallen over and bashed their heads in because they're drinking too much."

But David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, an association set up by the drinks industry to promote responsible drinking, said although raising taxes seemed positive, it was not going to solve the problem.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it is a superficially attractive solution but it is not necessarily the right solution.

Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt
Patricia Hewitt wants to "really increase" taxes on alcohol

"Sure, if we increase taxes we are likely to reduce the population's overall consumption of alcohol but that is not really the problem.

"The problem is more to do with how much certain individuals drink and the pattern of their drinking.

"High taxation is a relatively blunt instrument to deal with this complex problem."

Drink dangers

The Office for National Statistics defines binge drinking as consuming eight or more units for men and six or more for women on a single occasion.

About 23% of men and 9% of women binge drink in the UK but it is predominantly a problem among 16 to 24-year-olds, official figures show.

Police chiefs backed Ms Hewitt's plans, saying the extra tax should be channelled back into the police.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said police were also worried about the marketing of drinks such as alcopops which could "appeal to children".

The Office for National Statistics defines "heavy" drinking as eight or more units for men and six or more for women
About 23% of men and 9% of women binge drink in the UK
Binge drinking among young British women has increased more than in any other EU country in the last decade
UK death rates due to binge drinking have doubled in the last 20 years
Statistics from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC there was a clear problem with alcohol in the UK and welcomed the moves.


But Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said Ms Hewitt's proposal was a sign she had accepted defeat in tackling binge drinking.

"This is a veiled admission of failure from a minister who has failed miserably to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse."

He said consideration should be given to raising tax on damaging high-alcohol drinks, such as super-strength lagers, while lowering the duty on less harmful drinks.

Research shows 80% of pedestrian deaths on Friday and Saturday nights are alcohol-related, as are nearly three quarters of peak time accident and emergency admissions.

What the tax rise would mean for drinkers


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