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BY LIZZIE PARRY
Thursday, November 22, 2012
AS the war on cheap super-strength alcohol is stepped up in Ipswich, a Star investigation has illustrated the size of the task facing the authorities.
The Reducing the Strength campaign was launched in the town in September.
The campaign aims to stop the sale of cheap super-strength beer, lager and cider from off-licensed premises.
The campaign is a joint initiative between Suffolk Police, NHS Suffolk, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and the East of England Co-Operative Society.
Reducing the Strength asks off-licence owners to voluntarily remove super-strength products from their stores.
Yesterday police began rewarding shops which have signed up to the Reducing the Strength initiative, aimed at ridding Suffolk’s county town of the scourge of ultra-potent beers and ciders.
But high-alcohol beverages are still easily found in Ipswich.
The Star was able to buy a three- litre bottle of cider – costing just £3.99 and containing more alcohol than the weekly recommended allowance for a man – within minutes of trying.
The 7.5 per cent proof Frosty Jacks cider contains 22.5 units – more than health experts’ 21-unit limit for men.
The cost per unit of 17p is less than a third of the 50p limit which prime minister David Cameron wants to impose.
Figures from the awareness charity Alcohol Concern show that in 2010/11 there were 94,120 alcohol-related admissions to hospitals in Suffolk, costing more than £35m.
Simon Aalders, co-ordinator at Suffolk’s Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT), said examples like the one highlighted by The Star show “the challenge we are facing”.
“We are very keen for all local retailers to stop selling that type of alcohol, because of the harm and damage it does to people,” he said.
“This alcohol is incredibly cheap and we need to do as much as we can to encourage independent retailers to stop selling it and get on board with the Reducing the Strength campaign.
“We have had a lot of success with independent traders in Ipswich and some chain stores in what is a fairly unique approach to trying to tackle the problems associated with this type of alcohol.”
Among the risks associated with drinking super-strength alcohol– defined by Suffolk police after speaking to various charities as alcohol of over 6.5pc proof sold at very low prices – Mr Aalders said those alcoholics who drink it in the morning are “unable to function at all during the day”.
“Drinking lower-strength alcohol, people are still able to function – they can get washed, dressed and if they choose to, they can still engage with the world around them,” he added.
“On this stuff, people absolutely can’t. It is so toxic on the liver and body and people’s health, it is extremely dangerous.
“Our aim is to reduce the harm alcohol does to this county.
“It causes those people who are already physically unwell to become far, far worse.”
Producers of Frosty Jacks Aston Manor were unavailable for comment.
Officers in Ipswich have been rewarding shops for their efforts to rid the town of super-strength alcohol.
Ulster News was the first shop to be awarded a plaque for signing up to the Reducing the Strength campaign.
Chief Inspector for Ipswich Andrew Mason and street drinking liaison officer Pc John Alcock presented the plaque to owner Naynaben Patel.
Ch Insp Mason said: “The plaques are going up all around Ipswich and Mrs Patel was the first one to sign up, so we thought she should have hers first.
“We’ve got 63 stores signed up now out of 122 in Ipswich, so we’re over 50 per cent.”
Since the launch, Ipswich police have seen a marked decrease in street drinking.
Pc Alcock said: “The Reducing the Strength Campaign is part of a much bigger street drinking initiative, but without a doubt we have seen a drop of something like 39pc in reported incidents of street drinking within the borough of Ipswich over the last few months.”
Mrs Patel said she was “really proud” to be part of the campaign and would be displaying the plaque in her shop.
She said: “It’s very important because lots of people drink and it’s a problem for everyone.”
Signing up means shops committing to removing cheap alcohol from their shelves – but some have gone further, amending their licences to prevent the sale of super-strength booze in the future.
The borough council is encouraging this “future-proofing” measure by waving the £89 cost of amending a licence for shops signing up before April next year.
Pc Alcock added: “It’s absolutely voluntary at the moment and I think that is why the scheme is successful – because we’re not enforcing anything on anybody – people are signing up because they understand what we’re trying to achieve.”
What do you think of shops selling super-strength booze? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail email@example.com