Special Brew facing supermarket ban

It encourages irresponsible drinking, says watchdog

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Half-litre cans of Special Brew, Kestrel and Skol Super are set to disappear from supermarket and off-licence shelves following a ruling from the drinks industry regulator.

The makers of the high-strength lagers are breaking the rules on responsible alcohol advertising, says the Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel. It was investigating complaints from homelessness charity Thames Reach.

The panel pointed out that a 500ml can of 9% proof Carlsberg Special Brew contains 4.5 units of alcohol – substantially more than the "low risk" daily allowance of two-to-three units for a woman and three-to-four for a man.

Given that the drink would start to go off pretty quickly once the can was opened, the panel concluded it would generally be drunk in one session. They even carried out a consumer poll, finding that 80% of people would expect to finish it off in one go - although a more abstemious 2% reckoned you could reseal a can.

The panel decided that Carlsberg's suggestion on the Special Brew and Skol Super cans that the contents are "best shared well chilled" doesn't make a lot of difference to this attitude. Similarly, Brookfield Drinks' "sharing can" label on Kestrel didn't carry a lot of weight.

"It is important that a can's packaging does not encourage immoderate consumption and we advise producers to seek advice from the Portman Group if they are in any doubt," says secretary to the Independent Complaints Panel, Henry Ashworth.

Commitment to responsible drinking

Thames Reach chief executive Jeremy Swain says he's delighted with the ruling.

"Reducing the strength of super-strength drinks and/or the size of the unresealable cans containing them would bring these drinks within government guidelines and help the drinks industry in its commitment to encouraging the responsible consumption of alcohol," he says.

"I have no doubt that the impact of this decision will be to significantly reduce the damaging impact of these drinks on the health of our clients and ultimately reduce the number of alcohol related deaths that, sadly, we experience with depressing regularity."

Thames Reach's own figures indicate that of the people with alcohol problems living in its hostels, a shocking 96% prefer these super-strength drinks.

As a result, they're subject to health problems including liver disease, brain damage, blackouts and double incontinence.

The Portman Group has now sent out a Retailer Alert Bulletin, telling supermarkets, off-licences and other stores to stop ordering the cans at the end of March. Many have already done so, through a government-sponsored responsibility pledge.

The manufacturers will now consider reducing the st4ength of their drinks or selling them in smaller cans.

But do you agree? Should the cans be banned? And would you reclose one halfway through?

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