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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 02:56 GMT
Soaps 'encourage binge drinking'
EastEnders characters
EastEnders characters are often seen with a drink
Characters in Britain's most popular soap operas spend too much time in the pub and encourage binge drinking, the charity Alcohol Concern has warned.

It said regulars at TV pubs like EastEnders' Queen Vic and Coronation Street's Rovers' Return need to mend their boozy ways in the New Year.

Soaps now show alcohol being drunk seven times an hour - almost twice as much as in the 1980s, the charity said.

Problems like hangovers and alcoholism should feature more often, it argued.

The charity's case was questioned by the makers of BBC One's EastEnders and Channel 4's Hollyoaks, who said pubs were simply somewhere for characters to meet.

Pub bores

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, told BBC News Online it was concerned that drinking was shown as something which was expected of people and would not do any damage.

Because our age range is 16 to 25 we are always aware that we can't preach, but we have shown the consequences of drinking too much
Hollyoaks spokeswoman

"We're not suggesting that everyone should be shown to be an alcoholic, but the portrayal of drinking as a very cosy one which does not lead to any problems is wrong," he said.

A shortage of drunken pub bores, nasty hangovers, aggressive behaviour and alcohol-related illnesses was highlighted by Mr Appleby.

He argued the problem was not that viewers cannot tell the difference between real life and a soap opera, but that social norms are influenced.

Alcohol Concern fears
Drinking among under-16s has doubled in 10 years
Misuse costs 6.4bn in the workplace every year
1.7bn cost to the health service
7.3bn cost in crime and public disorder

Drawing a comparison, he said: "People don't immediately see an advert and go out and buy the product, but it creates a pattern and perhaps a desire."

One EastEnders scene highlighted for criticism by Mr Appleby was part of a story in which Kat Slater started drinking after new lover Alfie Moon failed to return from his search for a condom.

"Kat knocked back an enormous amount of drink which, in some cases, could have led to someone dying," he said.

'We can't preach'

An EastEnders spokeswoman said the soap was responsible and characters often went to the Queen Vic for a meal rather than a booze-up.

"They're not just going in there and getting drunk all the time, and viewers can differentiate between that and a story line which deals with a drinking problem," she said.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4's Hollyoaks, whose young characters are regularly seen in a pub or nightclub, agreed.

She said: "Because our age range is 16 to 25 we are always aware that we can't preach, but we have shown the consequences of drinking too much.

"We had one character, OB, who drank too much and we showed his friends talking to him."

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