The government has been accused of “tinkering at the edges” over plans to tackle problem drinking by driving up taxes on super-strength beer and lager.

The additional duty will come into effect from autumn 2011 and will be imposed on beer with a strength above 7.5% alcohol by volume.

Meanwhile, duties on low-alcohol beers with a strength of 2.8% or less will be reduced to encourage consumption of these types.

The amount of the new tax will be revealed by chancellor George Osborne in his Budget next spring.

Prime minister David Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment on its size but said it was intended to be large enough to influence drinkers’ behaviour.

The proposed changes follow an informal Treasury consultation and were announced at the same time as health secretary Andrew Lansley published a public healthwhite paper.

It urges people to take greater responsibility for their own health, with Lansley saying the government wants to “nudge” people in the right direction.

The Treasury said in a statement that the government recognised that most drinkers were responsible but problem consumption remained a concern.

It added: “There are a number of measures that can be considered to help address the harms associated with problem drinking and the government recognises that in some areas taxation can play a role.”

During the Treasury consultation, the chancellor came under pressure from health groups to increase tax on spirits and cider, which are often linked with problem drinking.

But the Treasury concluded that a hike in duties on either drink could unfairly penalise responsible drinkers and important local industries.

The government has recently introduced legislation on cider - which currently attracts duties of only 19p a pint - to increase the price of high-strength white ciders, and will monitor its impact before deciding whether further measures are needed.

Drinkers of high-strength connoisseur beers - often traditional ales or imported continental beers of the kind produced in Belgium - will not be unfairly penalised by the new duty because they tend to drink small volumes, often with a meal, said the Treasury.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said he was pleased the government was seeking to use taxes. He added: “However, they are tinkering at the edges, failing to address the fundamental inconsistencies within the alcohol duty system.

“A much more effective approach would be for cider duty to be brought in line with beer; and for there to be low, medium and high-strength duty bands on all products, including wine.

“In addition, to effectively stop retailers from loss leading, duty rises must be accompanied by a minimum unit price of 40p or more.

“There is nothing in these proposals which would stop two litres of high-strength cider from being available for under a £1.

“However, a minimum unit price of 50p would lead to 90,000 fewer hospital admissions and 10,000 fewer violent crimes.”

The chairman of the alcohol committee of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Ian Gilmore, said the government’s measures were little more than “window-dressing”.