Cheap, high-strength cider should face a price increase in order to reduce its “burden” on the NHS and society, experts have said.
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) said low-cost alcohol is putting the health and wellbeing of children and heavy drinkers at risk.
It said three-litre bottles of the ciders, which contain the same amount of alcohol as 22 shots of vodka, can be bought for as little as £3.49 or 16p per unit.
The AHA said prices should be increased to reduce the chances of people buying it, and cited a survey’s findings that 66% of the public support tax increases.
Street drinkers and children accounted for nearly all sales of the ciders due to their low price and high strength, and many people receiving treatment for alcohol problems had “traded down” to cider as their drinking became heavier.
The AHA said its proposed increase would leave 80% of cider sales unaffected.
Each year, there are almost 23,000 deaths and more than one million hospital admissions related to alcohol in England.
More than two-thirds of alcohol sold in the UK is purchased in supermarkets and off-licences.
AHA chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said: “Alcohol is 60% more affordable than it was in the 1980s, but the low prices it is being sold at in the off trade hide a much bigger price we are all paying in terms of damage to individuals’ health, hospital admissions, and pressure on our NHS and emergency services.”
He added: “Taken together, increased duty on cider, minimum unit pricing and the reinstatement of the alcohol duty escalator would be good for the population’s health, and ease the burden on healthcare professionals.
“Importantly, these measures would also provide economic benefits.
“We know that if we reduced the burden on health and society of cheap alcohol, employers would benefit from a more productive workforce, as people live longer and healthier lives.”
Dr Peter Rice, chairman of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said: “Colleagues and I became aware of the damage being done by high strength ciders in the mid 1990s when two and three-litre bottles of these ciders, known to drinkers as ‘submarines’ came on the market, and they began to replace the strong lagers which had dominated consumption up until then.
“The harmful impact of cheap, high strength ciders is now widely recognised by those working in health and care services and in the wider population.”
Caroline Moye, head of the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “Considering how dangerous alcohol is, it is shocking that people can still buy one unit of alcohol for just 16p - putting this into perspective, people can drink the Government’s weekly recommended alcohol limit for just over £2.
“Many people aren’t aware that drinking alcohol can increase their risk of a number of different cancers including breast and bowel. In fact, around 21,000 cancer cases could be prevented every year in the UK if no-one drank alcohol.
“Alcohol kills, yet it can be cheaper than bottled water.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Higher strength beer and cider are already taxed more than the equivalent weaker product. Lower strength products are taxed less to incentivise their consumption.
“The independent UK Chief Medical Officers also recently released new guidance on the risk alcohol can pose so people can make informed decisions.”