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Swiss take advantage of a cheap tipple

Alcopops are on the rise among young people Keystone Archive

Alcohol consumption in Switzerland has shot up dramatically in the past two years, following generous cuts in taxes on imported spirits.

This content was published on February 28, 2003 - 12:26

A new survey, by the Swiss Institute for Drug and Alcohol Prevention (ISPA), shows that the Swiss now drink 40 per cent more spirits than they did when taxes were higher.

Holger Schmid, the deputy director of the ISPA, told swissinfo that the increase was most marked among the younger age groups across both sexes.

The report found that the increase among men under 30 is 75 per cent. For women over 30, consumption has risen by 55 per cent.

"Our data shows that spirits are more and more used to get drunk and this is mainly a problem for young people," said Schmid.

"It's not so much the dependency - the addiction. It's the alcohol abuse that is the problem - all the problems linked to drinking too much alcohol, such as accidents, homicides and suicides. This is a real public health problem," he added.

The study suggests that drinking patterns are strongly influenced by the price of alcohol and that people who had hardly ever bought spirits before the tax change were now more inclined to do so.

It said that sales of spirits had risen by a quarter in Switzerland.

Alarm

The ISPA has sounded the alarm about the rise in drinking among young people - almost 12 per cent of boys aged 15 to 16 years old were found to be regularly consuming spirits. Among girls of the same age the figure was four per cent.

Earlier this week the government said it would slap a SFr1.80 tax on bottles of alcopops - sweet drinks containing spirits - in an effort to curb drinking by youngsters.

The cabinet proposed taxing alcopops by up to four times as much as other alcoholic drinks, which would result in extra annual revenue of SFr50 million.

But parliament has still to debate the issue amid stiff opposition from the business federation and importers.

In an earlier interview, Holger Schmid told swissinfo that he welcomed the alcopops tax.

"This is one step in the right direction because people under the age of 18 are a very important group that consumes these alcopops and we know that this group is very sensitive to changes of prices," he said.

"It is important to take measures to increase the price and we have examples, such as in France, that where alcopops are under a special taxation they have almost disappeared from the market."

Campaign

The government recently launched a new phase in a long-running campaign aimed at cutting young people's consumption of alcopops.

It intends to show a series of advertisements in cinemas, which urge young people to resist peer pressure to drink alcohol.

Markus Allemann of the Federal Health Office told swissinfo that there was much cause for concern about alcopops.

"The numbers we have from the market represent quite a problem for us because the consumption of alcopops is 20 times higher than it was before," said Allemann.

He partly blamed the aggressive marketing of alcohol companies and the influx of new products for the rise.

Official figures show that about 40 million bottles of alcopops were sold in Switzerland last year.

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson

key facts

Consumption of imported spirits has risen 40%, after taxes were cut by half.
The increase among men under 30 is 75%.
For women over 30, it has risen by 55%.
A new study shows that 12% of boys aged 15-16 regularly drink spirits.
The government has proposed SFr1.80 tax on alcopops to curb underage drinking.
Some 40 million bottles of alcopops were sold in Switzerland last year.

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