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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Sunday, 15 June 2008 15:48 UK

Alcohol abuse

Andrew Black
The Politics Show's reporter in Scotland

It costs Scottish society an estimated 2.25bn every year and claims six lives a day.

Beer bottles on Bar
Scottish Government on verge of unveiling 'radical' plans

Now, the Scottish Government is on the verge of unveiling "radical" plans to tackle the alcohol abuse issues so often at the heart of the nation's health and crime problems.

Ministers have already outlined plans to increase the cost of alcoholic drinks and end to cut-price drink deals in shops and supermarkets.

The latest details of the drive to emerge - increasing the age at which alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences can be bought from 18 to 21 - has split opinion and has not gone down well with retailers and students.

Mixed message

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said it was more important to educate young people to drink responsibly, adding: "This mixed message, that it is ok to drink in pubs and clubs, but that it is not ok to buy something to drink responsibly in your own home, is extremely confusing."

Her call was echoed by James Alexander, president of NUS Scotland, who argued 18-year-olds were old enough to take responsibility.

He told BBC Scotland's politics show: "My advice is not to take the easy option - this is a very blunt instrument - but actually to do the very challenging thing, which is to change attitudes towards alcohol, to change the culture in this country around binge drinking, which is not going to change by simply changing the age - that's going to make no impact at all."

Action against retailers

The public smoking ban in Scotland was followed by a recent decision to increase licensing fees for outlets such as pubs and clubs.

But the body representing them, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which has in the past felt a bit hard-done-by in the wake of such measures, has firmly backed action against retailers.

"Over the last couple of years, the supermarkets have totally failed to respond to the obviously irresponsible promotions that they have within their stores," said Paul Waterson, Chief Executive of the association.

"There's a total lack of understanding that the prices they are charging, which means alcohol is often cheaper than water, is exacerbating the problem in Scotland."

Scotland's Health Secretary and deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon: 'We face a big problem'

Scotland's Health Secretary and deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has promised bold proposals to deal with the issue, telling BBC Scotland: "We face a big problem.

"The government's not anti-alcohol, it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy alcohol responsibly, but we are concerned about alcohol misuse."

"It has an impact on crime and anti-social behaviour and it's taken a big toll on our health - we've got the fastest increasing rates of liver cirrhosis in the whole of the world, almost."

The government's plan follows the success of a scheme in Armadale, West Lothian.

Off-licences in the town refused to sell alcohol to under-21s on Fridays and Saturdays, during which assaults, vandalism and general complaints about young people decreased.

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