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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Doctors back tougher alcohol laws
By Nick iggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Teens drinking
Many young people regularly use alcohol
Doctors are calling for stricter alcohol laws in a bid to combat rising drink problems.

Latest figures show deaths and hospital admissions due to alcohol have both doubled in recent years.

The British Medical Association wants more use of street drinking bans, an increase in taxation and a cut in the driving alcohol limit.

But doctors rejected a call for to increase the legal age for buying alcohol in shops to 21.

We want to see more areas designated as no-drinking zones
Dr Chris Spencer-Jones
BMA's public health committee

NHS Information Centre figures - released as the debate unfolded at the BMA conference in Torquay - showed there were 5,280 hospital admissions in under-16s in 2005-6 - a rise of over a third from the 3,870 figure in 1995-6.

There were also 187,640 NHS hospital admissions among adults - double the 89,280 figure 10 years ago.

The rise corresponds with the doubling in the last 15 years in the number of alcohol-related deaths to over 8,000 a year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

At the conference, public health doctors warned the binge drinking culture was fuelled by a boom in supermarket sales of cheap alcohol.

But some doctors expressed concern that taking too tough a line - for instance a complete ban on street drinking - would be seen as overy "nannying".

Stop street gatherings

Kate Adams, a GP from London, told the delegates at the BMA's conference that doctors should not impinge on people's social life.

"I enjoy a cold glass of champagne while having a meal outside a pub, or having a beer on the pavement in the summer. We don't want to stop people socialising like this."

NHS alcohol services remain woefully inadequate across the whole spectrum
Professor Ian Gilmore
Royal College of Physicians

But Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, chairman of the BMA's public health committee, said the idea was to stop people congregating in streets and drinking.

"We are not looking to ban that sort of drinking. We want to see more areas designated as no-drinking zones."

David Samuel, deputy chairman of the BMA medical students committee, said: "I think it's terrible on a Saturday night, when it is almost like running the gauntlet down the high street."

Local authorities do currently have powers to ban drinking in certain designated areas, but doctors want to see these powers being used more to create no drinking zones in towns and cities across the country.

The conference also called for taxation to be increased and become proportionate to the amount of alcohol content in drinks amid concern about high-strength wines.

Road deaths

Doctors also agreed a motion calling for the alcohol limit for driving to be reduced from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg per 100ml - in line with much of mainland Europe.

Over a third of the 3,000 road deaths in the UK each year are linked to alcohol consumption.

Colin Hamilton, a public health doctor from Northern Ireland, said it was "inexplicable" the UK was lagging behind others.

He said: "The evidence [for a reduction] has been building up for a number of years."

Speaking away from the conference, Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, called the latest figures on alcohol-related death and illness "stark and frightening".

He said: "NHS alcohol services remain woefully inadequate across the whole spectrum, from early detection of hazardous drinkers to treatment of severe dependence."

A Home Office spokesman said the government was already using a combination of methods to try to educate and enforce a change in behaviour.

"Successive enforcement campaigns have slashed the numbers selling alcohol to under 18s and all children learn about the effects of drinking in national curriculum science teaching."

But he said local authorities already were already using their powers to designate no drinking zones.

The Department for Transport said there were no immediate plans to reduce the drink driving limit, although it was always kept under constant review.

  • Obesity was also debated with doctors expressing concern over the "epidemic" being seen.

    But doctors rejected a motion calling for obesity in the under 12s to be treated as a child protection issue.

    Laurence Buckman, deputy chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said doctors should be educating, advising and encouraging patients not acting for social services.

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