23 cents ... how much cider is taxed per standard drink. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Sales of cider have rocketed, not only because it is a fashionable summer drink but also because of its favourable tax treatment.
But public health experts fear cider is replacing alcopops, with its sweet taste and relatively cheap price encouraging excessive drinking among young people.
Between 2007 and last year, cider sales soared by up to 188 per cent in Australia, an article in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health shows. One of the lead authors, Natacha Carragher of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, says the boom is due to the alcohol industry taking advantage of the low-tax status of apple and pear cider.
Since 2007, there has been a ‘‘massive marketing overhaul’’ of traditional cider, which is the fourth lowest-taxed alcoholic drink in Australia, she said.
Traditional cider is taxed at 23¢ per standard drink, after draught light beer (6¢), cask wine (8¢) and draught mid-beer (20¢). Spirits, flavoured cider and ready-to-drink mixed drinks are all taxed at a higher 95¢.
‘‘This really reflects the fact we don’t have a coherent taxing system,’’ Dr Carragher said. ‘‘Whenever you have this situation, the industry can exploit it.’’
The dramatic increase in cider sales was history repeating itself, she said. During 2004 to 2007, sugary alcopops had a 33 per cent increase in sales before the federal government set a higher tax in 2008.
A professor of health policy at Curtin University, Mike Daube, said the explosion of cheap and sweet ciders was simply replacing the popularity of alcopops.
‘‘It is absolutely clear young drinkers are being targeted,’’ he said. ‘‘But more worrying, they are being targeted by this amazing range of sweet confectionery products.’’
The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia is calling for the alcohol taxation system to be reformed urgently.
The council argues in a submission to the Australian National Preventative Health Agency that the revised alcopop tax has not been successful in reducing overall alcohol consumption.
There are 120 types of local and international cider available in Australia, almost double what there was two years ago. Last year, 15 per cent of people aged 18-24 said they drank cider, compared with 10.1 per cent the previous year, a Nielsen poll shows.
The owner of Manly’s Hotel Steyne, Ged Dore, opened a cider bar, the Moonshine Cider and Rum Bar, in the hotel 18 months ago.
The bar sells 15 brands of cider in bottles and 16 on tap. Mr Dore estimates 90 per cent of the ciders sold at the bar are the traditional apple and pear variety.
Cider accounts for 20 per cent of all alcohol sales at his hotel, he said. While the lower tax did play a part in the decision to open the bar, Mr Dore said offering cider was a ‘‘natural progression’’ based on cider’s popularity overseas, as younger people started drifting towards craft beers and cider.
But he is adamant the bar does not stock ‘‘alcopop’’ ciders. ‘‘We try to keep local, independent companies,’’ he said.