Charity calls for spirit duty rise in Budget on back of new figures of under 18s drinking

The charity Alcohol Concern is calling for a rise in spirit duty of 4% above inflation after their new survey has found that children in treatment for alcohol are consuming more spirits than any other type of alcohol. Last year, over 10,000 children and young people accessed treatment for alcohol as either a primary or secondary substance.


Eleven treatment services across England and Wales asked 223 children and young people between the ages of 12 and 20 years (85% of who were under 18) and who use their services about the type of alcohol and which brands they consume most. The most recent results show that children accessing treatment are drinking spirits, particularly vodkas, along with beer and strong ciders.

Type of drink  Total numbers %
Spirits 82 37
Beer 62 28
Cider 46 21
Wine 21 9
Liqueurs 7 3
Alcopops 5 2
TOTAL 223 100

Among the top five alcohol brands consumed were Smirnoff Vodka and Fosters, both leading brands which are heavily promoted and are well known through their extensive advertising campaigns. Jack Daniels Whisky also made the top five for the first time.

Tom Smith, Head of Policy at Alcohol Concern, said: “Heavily advertised brands and cheap, strong booze are the drinks of choice for vulnerable children.

“I think we all would agree that the strongest and most dangerous products to children should be priced out of reach.

“Alcohol taxes for spirits are historically low, yet consumption rates for spirits are high, especially amongst younger groups who are often drinking with the purpose of getting drunk.”

The frequency of spirit consumption in young people has almost doubled amongst 11-15 year olds that drink since 1990. Between 2011/12 and 2013/14 there were 13,725 alcohol-specific hospital admissions for under 18s, in addition to the number of children requiring support from alcohol services.

Melanie Soutar, Manager of Matrix young people’s drug and alcohol service, said: “It’s important that we understand the alcohol choices of young people when we’re treating children at such a young age.

“This survey highlights the call for action on things such as alcohol marketing and low price high volume products.”

Alcohol misuse currently costs the NHS £3.5 billion a year.  By implementing a rise in spirit duty, it would help relieve the financial strain on the NHS costs.


To read the full report, please click here.

Notes to editors

The five most consumed alcohol brands are: (2013 survey positions in brackets)

  • Fosters beer (1)
  • Generic or own-brand vodka (2)
  • Frosty Jack’s cider (4)
  • Smirnoff vodka (3)
  • Jack Daniel’s whisky (previously unplaced)

Spirit consumption in young people has almost doubled amongst 11-15 year olds that drink since 1990. HSCIC statistics on smoking, drinking and drug use 2014 table 4.16a/b – available here.


Eleven young people’s drug and alcohol services from different regions in England asked their clients to record the brands of alcohol they most commonly consumed. The services represent a geographical spread across all areas of England except London. The North East is significantly over represented compared to other regions, providing over half of the total number of participants. This is an area of high alcohol harm.

223 children and young people between the ages of 12 and 20 years old were recruited by the services to participate between November 2014 and March 2015. 85% of participants (192 of 223) were aged between 12 and 17 years – below the legal age to buy alcohol. 103 (46%) were male and 120 (56%) female. Each participant was asked to self-complete an anonymous record of the brand of alcohol most commonly consumed.

Participating services include DNA (Newcastle), N2L (North Tyneside), Switch (Darlington), Matrix (South Tyneside), Platform (Middlesbrough), Lifeline (Stockton), Early Break (Bury, Rochdale and East Lancashire), EYPDAS (Essex), ru-ok? under-18’s substance misuse service (Brighton), YADAS (Poole) and Plan B (Bedford).