George Osborne urged to increase tax rate on strong cider

Alcohol duty on strong cider should be increased to protect children and the homeless, health campaigners have said.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) called on Chancellor George Osborne to announce tax rate rises for cider and spirits in his Budget this month.

The campaign group, whose members include medical royal colleges and charities, said £3 two-litre bottles of cider were commonly consumed by vulnerable children and homeless people.

The call comes after a respected think tank recommended the Government should "seriously" consider revamping alcohol taxes to target problem drinking.

Drink taxes are "very badly targeted at the social harms caused by alcohol consumption", because they do not focus on heavy drinkers and are levied at hugely different rates on different types of alcohol, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said last month.

The duty on a litre of 7.5% strength cider is 39p, compared to £1.38 on a litre of beer of the same potency. And there has been a trend over recent years towards lower taxes on spirits, which are favoured by problem drinkers.

The AHA said figures showed cider sales in England and Wales have increased 50% per person in the last decade.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the AHA, said: "Alcohol sales have been falling over the last few years thanks to duty increases.

"Unfortunately that policy has been reversed after extensive lobbying by the alcohol industry, with the result that those falls have stopped and alcohol sales may well be starting to increase.

"Increased sales mean more alcohol related deaths, more alcohol related hospital admissions and more pressure on our emergency services. The only winners are the big alcohol companies."

Nerys Anthony, from social business Catch22, added: "Policy must reflect the impact of low priced alcohol on children and young people. Restricting access to cheap alcohol would not just protect the health of vulnerable young people, but could have a positive and far reaching impact across their entire lives."