The Alcohol Health Alliance decided to target cider above 7.5% abv for a Budget clobbering and launched a media blitz that earned it headlines across the national media in March.
The press releases made unsubstantiated and alarmist claims such as “the majority of white cider is drunk by children and street drinkers”.
The strategy succeeded, arguably because overworked news editors at the red tops and others did not check the facts and swallowed the claims without consulting the industry.
Aston Manor managing director Gordon Johncox told OLN: “There is a constant barrage of criticism and unsubstantiated points made around white cider, who drinks it and why they drink it, from all sorts of bodies.
“We got frustrated with the headlines that were being achieved by some of these well-intentioned but ultimately misguided bodies, and we have actually written to some challenging them.
“The research shows that the typical white cider drinker is very different to the demon presented by some of the bodies. We have written to the Alcohol Health Alliance. They have not replied yet.
“We are going to be far more robust in our challenges than we have been in the past. It’s just wrong that these bodies should be able to get away with making unsubstantiated claims.”
OLN has been unsuccessful in efforts to get a comment from the AHA. But commentators have warned that the AHA is trying to remove white cider from the market so it can go after a bigger prize – the spirits category.
Chris Snowdon at the Institute of Economic Affairs said: “One of its goals is to get white cider off the market or make it so expensive that nobody will drink it. Then people with alcohol dependency problems will switch to spirits, and then it can go after spirits, which would be harder, but a bigger, prize to be won.”
Paul Chase, head of compliance at CPL Training, added: “It can safely attack white cider. It wants to demonise certain drinks categories and use that as a means of leveraging an argument against alcohol.
“If you tax white cider out of existence then street drinkers will turn to spirits produced by well-known drinks companies and they [anti-alcohol lobby] can go after them.”
The trade bodies and the Alcohol Information Partnership battle to create balance in mainstream coverage of the industry, but are frequently outmanoeuvred by the AHA, which provides easy headlines for news outlets.
What is missing from the debate is the voice of the drinker, and OLN has learned that Camra is seeking to fight back by creating a group that portrays the view of the average drinker in the public domain.
Camra has branches in every part of the country, and could prove influential in efforts to redress the balance and combat the anti-alcohol lobby.
It is in the very early stages, so in the meantime the trade can fight back by simply acting responsibly and shouting about its achievements in responsible retailing, working in partnership with local authorities to cut alcohol-related harm and stripping more than a billion units from the market.
“There is a responsibility for everybody who behaves responsibly to shout about it and demonstrate that they do a good job,” said Dave Roberts of the Alcohol Information Partnership. “It’s the job of myself and other organisations to keep making the case to legislators and the general public.”