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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 April 2007, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Call to raise drinking age to 21
youth drinking
By the age of 12, drinkers start to outnumber non-drinkers
Britain should consider making the legal drinking age 21 as it has "lost the plot" when it comes to regulating alcohol, policy pundits claim.

The UK has one of the worst problems in Europe with a fifth of children aged 11 to 15 drinking at least once a week.

Public Policy Research (PPR), the journal of the IPPR think-tank, says it is time to practise "tough love", such as reviewing the minimum drinking age.

The government said there were already tough measures in place.

Binge culture

But columnist Jasper Gerard argues in PPR: "When it comes to booze, society seems to have lost its senses."

He says current regulations are failing to tackle the growing trend of underage and binge drinking.

By raising the age threshold, he claims: "It is at least possible that those in their early and mid teens will not see drink as something they will soon be allowed to do so therefore they might as well start doing it surreptitiously now."

Alternatively, he proposes getting 18-year-olds to carry smart cards which record how much they have drunk each night and making it an offence to serve more alcohol to anyone under-21 who had already consumed more than three units.


He conceded that no measure would stamp out youthful drinking entirely, but said it was time for a crackdown.

Alcohol Concern agreed that further action was needed, but did not think raising the legal drinking age would help, pointing out that other countries which have already done this, including the US, still have a problem with youth drinking.

What we really need to do is change the drinking culture through education rather than making drinking a social taboo
David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group

But a spokesman added: "There is a sense that the regulatory landscape is lopsided.

"Licensing reform, resistance to a debate on taxation, the cancellation of the Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaigns which raised the profile of underage drinking issues - all happening at a time when alcohol-related harm is rising - seem to suggest the government is more concerned about making sure the drinks industry operates with as little interference as possible than with seriously grasping the nettle."

However, David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, said the drinks industry was already subject to "very strict and effective" regulations.

Alcohol-related conditions such as liver disease have doubled in less than a decade, to 262,844 a year
The number of people taken to Accident & Emergency with alcohol-related injuries has also doubled to 148,477 a year
Excessive drinking by young people has seen a 20% rise in hospital admissions in England over the last five years

He said: "What we really need to do is change the drinking culture through education rather than making drinking a social taboo by raising the legal drinking age."

A government spokesman said: "The majority of people drink sensibly and responsibly and the government has no plans to raise the minimum drinking age.

"Instead, we are using a combination of effective education and tough enforcement to change the behaviour of the minority that don't."

He said there had been campaigns to cut sales to underage drinkers and restrictions on TV advertising of alcohol, as well as education programmes in schools about the dangers of drinking.

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28 Mar 07 |  West Midlands

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