A hefty tax on alcopops has just come into force, designed to stop under-age drinkers becoming hooked on the popular drinks.This content was published on February 2, 2004 - 11:33
But it is not yet clear whether the tax will work, as many young drinkers say they will continue to buy the beverages despite the price hike.
Last year, the Swiss parliament decided to quadruple the current tax on a bottle of alcopop – a mixture of spirits with soft drinks or fruit juices – from SFr0.45 ($0.36) to SFr1.80.
The price of a 275ml bottle is expected to rise to over SFr4 from the current SFr2.50.
The move aims to stem the huge popularity of drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer and Vodka Hooch among teenagers, which account for around of quarter of all alcopop sales in Switzerland, according to the World Health Organization.
Around two million bottles of alcopops were sold in 2000, when the drink first made its debut in Swiss shops and bars. That figure skyrocketed to 40 million bottles in 2002.
“Binge drinking is a huge problem among young people today,” says Liliane Bruggmann of the Federal Health Office.
But a recent study by the University of Zurich found that around half of alcopop fans would be deterred by the price rise and would look for cheaper, alcoholic alternatives.
“We found that if alcopops get more expensive, then about fifty per cent of young people will drink other alcoholic mixed drinks, soft drinks or beer,” says Thomas Bamert, one of the researchers.
A number of young people on the streets of Bern confirmed the findings.
“I won’t drink less because the drinks are just too good and the tax is not that much,” says Sonja Bratschi, an 18-year-old from Bern.
“If I have to pay more then it doesn’t matter,” says 17-year-old student, Martina Haefeli. “Although it might be hard to find the money I will find a way.”
But young people might not even notice any change. Some leading Swiss retailers, such as Denner, say they will not raise prices but will absorb the tax increase themselves.
“We are going to wait and see before we raise prices on alcopops,” said Hans Rudolf Brauchbar, product manager at Denner.
The price hike seems to have gone down without much opposition in Switzerland. But elsewhere the idea of trying to curb teenage driving through higher taxes is proving less palatable.
The German government last Friday tried to squash suggestions that it was planning a similar price hike on alcopops. The finance ministry said it was not convinced that taxation was the right way to deal with “health” issues.
One German opposition party has already said it would block any such move on the grounds that higher taxes are not the way to protect young people from alcohol and cigarettes.
Swiss health officials say the drinks appeal to young people, and in particular to young women, because of their sweet taste.
“Alcopops have a strong sugary, fruity flavour which neutralises the flavour of alcohol and it’s the taste of alcohol that usually prevents young people from drinking,” says Bruggmann.
Bruggmann, who welcomes the tax, says controls need to be improved in order to keep under age people from gaining access to alcohol.
“I think the controls need to be increased, especially in bars and shops,” she says.
Bruggmann adds that price increases need to be combined with other preventive campaigns such as school and community-based programmes.
According to the Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, around 40 per cent of teenage males and 26 per cent of young women in Switzerland drink alcohol at least once a week.
This compares to one in four boys and one in ten girls 16 years ago.
The tax – which is about four times higher than on other alcoholic drinks – is expected to generate additional government revenues of SFr50 million.
swissinfo, Karin Kamp
The health ministry says about 25% of people buying alcopops are Swiss teenagers or children.
About 60% of people surveyed said a price rise would not change their drinking habits.
Three out of four Swiss did not know about the new tax.
Costs related to alcohol consumption in Switzerland are estimated at SFr6.5 billion per year.
The government will raise an extra SFr50 million with the alcopops tax.
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