The Alcohol Health Alliance – a group of 40 organisations that includes the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and Cancer Research UK – says it has conducted research that shows two-thirds of the public support higher duty on such products.
It says 3-litre bottles of cider at 7.5% abv contain the equivalent alcohol content to 22 shots of vodka and can be bought for £3.49.
The AHA claims street drinkers and children account for “nearly all” of sales of such ciders and that problem drinkers trade down to cider as their alcohol consumption becomes heavier.
Dr Peter Rice, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, added: “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.
“Some major drinks firms, such as Heineken, have withdrawn these products because of the harm they cause, but other producers have taken their place.
“Cider has received preferential treatment in the duty system, and this has allowed products to develop which cause a great deal of harm to the health of UK citizens.”
The AHA singled out Frosty Jack’s for criticism which Gordon Johncox, managing director of brand owner Aston Manor, said left him “disappointed” and “frustrated”.
He said Kantar Worldpanel data showed that “typical Frosty Jack’s consumers are middle-aged men who have a repertoire of preferences across all alcohol”.
He added: “Their enjoyment of Frosty Jack's is likely to be at home, to accompany food and regarded as low-tempo, not immoderate consumption or pre-loading.
“It is another instance of this brand and the category more generally being demonised through a regular and consistent mythology being repeated about the consumer base and occasions when Frosty Jack’s is enjoyed.
“We make the point very strongly to the AHA and others that whatever their interests and ambitions around alcohol policy they must engage in the public debate with a clear regard for accurate information.
“It is simply not acceptable to misrepresent reality, to generate sensational claims and then rely on the lack of verification and challenge from the mainstream media so that misinformation might be presented as fact.”
The AHA also wants to see minimum unit pricing on all alcohol and the reinstatement of the duty escalator which pegged tax rises on alcohol to inflation plus 2% per year until it was scrapped in 2014.
Chair Sir Ian Gilmore said such a package of measures would be “good for the population’s health, and ease the burden on healthcare professionals”.
He added: “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.”