Alcopop rules left to industry

The Government no longer plans to restrict the sale and strength of "ready-to-drink" beverages and will let the liquor industry set its own rules for the sweetened alcoholic drinks.

Industry giants lobbied Justice Minister Judith Collins to scrap proposed limits on the number of standard drinks and alcohol content in alcopops, which are popular with young drinkers.

Mrs Collins said yesterday: "The Government has decided to give the alcohol industry the opportunity to introduce its own measures to limit the harm to young people caused by RTDs."

If the industry rules were ineffective, the Government would have regulation-making powers to limit the RTDs' strength and places of sale.

The news marks a significant retreat from the initial proposals for alcopops in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which could come before Parliament next Thursday.

The Law Commission, in a report on which the reforms were based, said RTDs were commonly used by binge drinkers, and were the drink of choice for 14-24-year-olds, especially women.

The legislation originally proposed restricting RTDs to 5% alcohol and limiting them to containers holding no more than 1.5 standard drinks.

At the select committee stage, the cap on alcohol strength was raised to 6%, and only restaurants and bars could sell higher-strength RTDs.

Now, the cap has been scrapped and the industry will be left to create its own voluntary code.

Asked whether the change was a backdown to the industry, Mrs Collins said: "It's an inspired move, actually.

"A regulation-making power, which ... takes a matter of weeks as opposed to years, is a very inspired way of dealing with an industry that has over the years shown itself to be adept at changing the way it operates to suit the circumstances." The Law Commission also noted in its report in 2010 targeting RTDs might not be feasible because the alcohol industry would create alternatives, and young people could simply switch to straight spirits.

Yesterday, the Labour Party tabled 10 amendments to the reform Bill. The party feels the most important parts of the Law Commission report have been ignored, so it is making a last-ditch attempt to introduce measures on alcohol pricing, marketing and sponsorship.


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