Ban on Super Strength Lager and Cider Debated at Cambridge City Council

Friday, February 22nd, 2013. 6:22pm

On Thursday the 21st of February 2013 Cambridge City Council debated a Labour proposal to ban super strength lager and cider. I filmed the debate and have posted all the main elements of it online.

Cllr George Owers spoke for the proposal which formed part of the Labour opposition’s “alternative budget” for the council.

The proposal, which was defeated in a vote, involved spending £80,000 over three years, primarily on employing a ‘Reduce the Strength’ Licensing Officer. The Labour explanation stated:

New licensing officer with remit to develop and implement a voluntary code of conduct for local licensees where retailers would agree not to stock high strength beers, lagers and ciders. The officer would have a remit of creating and promoting this code, persuading licensees to sign up, and co-ordinating the campaign with the police, NHS and other local community organisations with an interest in reducing problem and especially street drinking. They would also assist police gather evidence concerning problematic and street drinking for the purpose of potential licence reviews.

During Cllr Owers’ speach he appeared to go futher and call for a ban on super strength lagers and ciders (other than specialised foreign lagers) claiming they kill more people and are more addictive than class A drugs Heroin and Cocaine.

My view is we need to elect councilors who are prepared to use the existing licencing laws and staff. If there is a problem with a particular shop selling super strength cheap drinks then a licencing review can take place and councillors can impose conditions restricting what can be sold.

There needs to be better education, and easy access to health services to help those with addiction problems. We need to treat the underlying problem, not seek to make alcohol slightly harder, and more expensive, for alcoholics to obtain.


8 comments/updates on “Ban on Super Strength Lager and Cider Debated at Cambridge City Council

  1. Cllr George Owers

    I did not ‘go further’ and call for a ban on anything, because clearly the council does not have the power to do so. It’s a voluntary code that we were proposing, as is clear from the Labour budget amendment. On a hypothetical point, I would ban super strength lagers from sale on a national level if I had the power to do so, but that is a separate issue.

    On the substantive, you, like Cllr Rosenstiel, are completely missing the point. There is no way of responsibly selling lagers or ciders that are that strong and cheap and sold almost exclusively to people with alcohol dependency problems, and usually a host of other problems. Some of these drinks have more than the recommended daily units of alcohol in one can, and can be bought for pennies. It is an example of large drinks companies profiteering out of the desperation and addiction of seriously ill people. You mention licence reviews. Well, in the only licence review to ever occur, we placed a condition on the licence prohibiting the sale of super-strength beers and lagers on just that general principle (a decision that Cllr Rosenstiel voted for). Extending that principle to the whole city, while prioritising the most affected areas at first, would make it more difficult for some of the most ill to get hold of the most destructive, addictive, potent and cheap form of alcohol they can, which many charities have warned is more addictive than crack cocaine. It’s not a complete solution to the problem, obviously, but it would be a small step in the right direction, which has had excellent effects in Westminster and Ipswich. Some of the details could be tweaked – e.g. how it would function, where it would be prioritised etc – but the principle is sound. Something needs to be done on the issue rather than complete inaction. Indeed, I was given the strong impression after the meeting by the cllr I shadow that there had been splits within the Lib Dems on this, and some of them agreed with me privately.

    I suggest you read the following:

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The “but can be bought for pennies” bit appears to be key to me.

      Is the proposal actually for a minimum alcohol price?

      The price of class A drugs means many people commit crime to be able to afford them; or to steal them / their equivalents. Would making alcohol unaffordable / inaccessible to alcoholics without treating the addiction lead to more crime?

  2. Cllr George Owers

    I’m not sure how often I need to spell out what the proposal is without you deciding that it is something else entirely. Funnily enough, the city council does not have the power to institute minimum alcohol pricing. The proposal is what it is, an attempt to get shops to voluntarily stop selling high-strength ciders, beers and lagers, which are particularly problematic because of their extreme cheapness per unit of alcohol. Minimum alcohol pricing would affect all drinks indiscriminately, this is not minimum pricing and aims at a certain kind of drink that is used almost solely by alcoholics.

    In terms of more crime – since a similar policy came into effect in Westminster, shop-lifting from off licences went down by 70% and alcohol related anti-social behaviour went down by 65%. The point is that alcohol would still be available to alcoholics, just in a much less concentrated and damaging form. The high strength drinks make it incredibly difficult for addicts to get off the booze because they are so potent and addictive. You talk about treating the addiction – but getting people off these high strength drinks and on to weaker alcohol is a crucial part of that process.

    And for god’s sake let’s not fall into the trap of saying ‘this won’t solve the whole problem, so it’s worthless’. Of course other policies are needed to help rehabilitate people – a wet centre which we have been pushing for, for instance, and more drug and alcohol outreach programmes – but don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. Anyway, when we take control of the council in 14 months time, this is happening. The Lib Dems have delayed it, not stopped it.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Lobbying some shopkeepers sounds like a morning’s work rather than something we should spend £80,000 on and create yet another a new public sector non-job for.

      I’d be all for presenting evidence to shopkeepers and the council channeling the views of residents to the shopkeepers and encouraging a more responsible approach.

      If encouragement doesn’t work, the council has, and ought make more use of, its licensing powers.

  3. cobweb

    At the risk of getting into an argument, I’d have thought proposing an outright ban on strong cider and larger which folk other than street drinkers might enjoy (proper cider – ie not Blackthorn – is about 7% or so after all) seems wrong to me. A wet centre is a far more sensitive, sensible and proportionate response. Banning strong drink isn’t just worthless, it’s the wrong response entirely. IMO.

    1. Cllr George Owers

      To reply to the two points.

      Richard, this kind of scheme cannot happen without extra staffing resources. The licensing enforcement manager is already overburdened. The aim of the officer that the Labour budget amendment proposed was to formulate the voluntary code and work with other local agencies (NHS, CAMBAC etc) to implement it, and also give work with the existing licensing team and police to make better use of existing powers, e.g. licence reviews. I agree with you that we need to make more use of our existing licensing powers, but the current team is not able to because they already very stretched.

      Cobweb, there is capacity in this scheme to exempt certain high-strength specialist lagers and ciders that are not priced or marketed in such a way as to be aimed at those with severe alcohol addiction. Other schemes are making such exceptions, e.g. Wycombe.

  4. Toby joseph

    Wow, do our elected representatives really have time to discuss such ridiculous measures ? If you want drink related crimes off the streets then simply police the streets with the legislation and powers you already have, please don’t try and bring any more stifling nanny state rules into an already over regulated life, and why you feel the need to waste 80k of our money doing so is totally beyond me, get a life and focus on some real issues.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Labour’s 2014 election manifesto does not include the proposed officer.

    It states

    Introduce a ‘Reduce the Strength’ campaign. High-strength, low-cost lagers and ciders are legal but lethal. They steadily kill street drinkers and lead to unacceptable disorder. Labour will introduce a voluntary code of conduct, on the model of that in Ipswich, which aims to persuade retailers to stop stocking high-strength beers, lagers and ciders. This will be done within existing staffing resources.

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