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Thursday, 8 April, 1999, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Alcohol 'should carry health warning'
18.07 7.04 .99 drinkingac
Doctors are concerned that underage drinking is increasing
Alcoholic drinks should carry health warnings and an independent regulator should ensure the industry does not target the young, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

It is calling for a raft of measures to cut alcohol abuse among the young, in a policy document published on Thursday.

Alcohol and Young People calls on the government to take tough action to address the problems of underage drinking.

It wants all packaging and advertising for alcoholic drinks to include:

  • A prominent warning of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption
  • Information on the maximum recommended daily level of alcohol
  • Standardised information on the alcohol content of the drink
Independent regulation

But the present regulators have attacked the BMA's position.

The Portman Group says the association's views are out of date, and strong regulations are already in place.

18.07 7.04 .99 drinking facts ac
The group is an independent company set up in 1989 by leading UK drinks manufacturers.

It aims to prevent alcohol abuse and promote sensible drinking.

However, it has been criticised for being too close to the drinks industry.

The BMA says it should be replaced by "an independent regulator with real powers of enforcement".

But Jean Coussins, Director of the Portman Group, said there was no need to implement the BMA's recommendations.

"The BMA's views seem to be out of date," she said.

"Virtually all their recommendations for a strengthened code, made two years ago to our own public review, have already been implemented and are working effectively."

'Excellent example'

She said the Office of Fair Trading had declared the group's code on the responsible marketing of alcoholic drinks "an excellent example of self-regulation" and had said the group itself was "genuinely independent".

18.07 7.04 .99 drinkingac
Designer drinks attract the young, doctors say
The BMA also wants a change in the law to bring the rest of the UK in line with Scotland.

Under Scottish law, it is an offence for adults to buy alcohol for public, unsupervised consumption by anyone under 18.

The report says that children should be sent into shops to buy alcohol - under carefully controlled circumstances - to test if retailers are obeying the law.

People who sell alcohol should also be trained in the law regarding alcohol and young people, before they are allowed a licence.

'Urgent government action'

Sir William Asscher, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science and Education, said: "We need concerted government action to address the problems of underage and teenage drinking.

18.07 7.04 .99 drinking facts ac
"Part of the solution lies in health education, but teenagers, with their delusions of immortality, are notoriously difficult to influence.

"That makes it all the more imperative that we have effective legislation and monitoring of the drinks industry, responsible marketing and tough enforcement."

But Ms Coussins said the Portman group was already pressing for a change in the law to deliver some of the BMA's demands.

"As for test purchasing and stricter licensing laws to stop children buying alcohol, it was the Portman Group that pressed harder than any other organisation to persuade an MP to introduce a Private Member's Bill to deliver these changes," she said.

"I hope the BMA is using all the influence at its disposal to encourage MPs to support the second reading of Chris McCafferty's Bill on 16 April."

See also:

16 Feb 99 | Health
Party sex teenager splits opinion
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