Trouble brewing: Islington Council tackles super-strength alcohol

Islington council are trying to tackle extra strong drinks
Islington council are trying to tackle extra strong drinks

Several off-licences in Islington are being asked to limit the sale of “super strength” alcoholic drinks in order to help reduce anti-social behaviour, according to letters seen by Islington Now.

Niall Forde, an Islington councillor, sent letters to several shop owners in the area around Exmouth Market last Friday, asking them to “work with the Council and our partners to voluntarily reduce the availability of high strength lager, beer, and cider from their premises”.

This appeal is part of a nationwide campaign, Reducing the Strength, which encourages off-licences to restrict the sale of cheap so-called “super strength” brands, including Carlsberg’s Special Brew and Gaymer’s K Cider. Portsmouth City Council, for example, issued a similar request to off-licences in November 2012.

Mukesh Majithia, who owns a Nisa off-licence near Northampton Square which sells K Cider (8.4 per cent ABV) for £1.40 said he supported the council but would not take any action until he had spoken to other businesses in the area.

Mr Majithia told Islington Now: “There are sometimes alcoholics who buy booze in the shops and drink in the park. I agree with any rules that help improve the local area and will go along with the council so long as bigger shops do also.

“We stopped selling all super strength lagers apart from one cider [K Cider] a year ago without the council telling us to.”

According to the council letter, there is a link between these high strength alcoholic drinks and crime levels in the borough.

Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at the charity Alcohol Concern, agreed: “People are fed up dealing with the crime and anti-social behaviour caused by people drinking cheap, strong booze and this campaign shows what communities can achieve when they comes together to tackle this problem.”

“We applaud those shops who chose to take part, but the reality is we need to deal with the root of the problem and that is the cheap, strong alcohol itself. To do this we need a firm commitment from the Government to introduce a minimum unit price, a policy which we know will cut crime and save lives.”

The council is recommending that businesses introduce an optional condition to their licences which would severely limit the sale of any drink with 6.5 per cent ABV or higher. Mr Forde said that strong lagers, beers and ciders should only be sold if they are responsibly priced “at £1.95 or above per 500ml”.

This comes after an Alcohol Concern study concluded that super strength ciders, such as White Ace, and similar drinks were becoming like “heroin among alcoholics” due to their high alcohol content and cheap price.

A single can of white cider at 7.5 per cent ABV exceeds the recommended daily alcohol intake for an adult woman, but can be purchased for as little as 95p in some shops – less than a bottle of water. It can be purchased at the Best One on Goswell Road, whose proprietor told Islington Now that they had not received a letter from the council.

Paul Gray, of Bestway Holdings, the company that produces White Ace, noted that “the issue of strong alcohol is raised fairly regularly”, but added that “we will continue to supply the product until the government stop the demand.”

Similarly, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the industry body that represents local shops, opposes any voluntary removal scheme until the council provides clear proof of a link between street drinking and anti-social behaviour.

In fact recorded crimes linked to alcohol have been falling nationwide in recent years, although figures in London remain significantly higher than the national average.

In 2006/7  the capital saw 13.44 alcohol related crimes per 1,000 population, a figure which had fallen to 11.10 by 2011/12. Nationally the number fell from  10.10 cases per 1,000 to 7.02 over the same period.

Shane Brennan, public affairs director, ACS said: “Local shops have a role to play in tackling street drinking and we are keen to support schemes that are based on clear evidence, effectively targeted and based on genuine partnership.

“However, the voluntary removal of a product is not a magic bullet that removes a street drinking problem and we would strongly oppose any moves to force retailers to take part.”

Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, suggests, however, that limiting the sale of super strength drinks would benefit the public because many people are not aware of how many units they are drinking.

She said: “It’s not unusual for people to under-report how much alcohol they drink, whether that’s intentional or not.

“People don’t tend to understand differences in sizes and strengths of popular drinks, or might be unwilling to admit to themselves and others exactly how much they drink. Consumers need to be aware of the unit guidelines and how this equates to their own drinking.”

But a spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers, a professional forum for the British police force, was less committed to the programme.

“It is not for us to say that these local shops should stop selling something that is legal for them to sell,” a spokesperson said.

“We do not lobby in any way. However, we would encourage people to be more responsible when they are drinking and pay closer attention to how much they are drinking.”

It was observed by Dr Lars Møller of the World Health Organisation at Alcohol Concern’s annual conference in November that the average alcohol consumption in the EU has decreased by 12.4 per cent since 1990, but for the UK there has been an increase of 7.4 per cent during the same period.

Dr Møller advised that “the most effective alcohol policies include restriction on marketing, on availability and pricing”.