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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 14:41 GMT
Binge-drinking culture confronted
Man on floor with police and friend
The government wants to reduce alcohol-fuelled trouble
The nation's binge-drinking culture, said to cost 20bn a year, is being tackled by new government proposals.

Ministers are worried about the cost of alcohol-related illness and crime to police, councils, industry and the NHS.

They are proposing measures including wardens at taxi ranks and a clampdown on pubs serving under-18s.

Home office minister Hazel Blears told BBC News the strategy was focusing particularly on binge-drinking youths out "to get as drunk as they can".

Social responsibility

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are two particular groups of people where it is beginning to be more of a problem...

The scale and cost of drinking in the UK

"Young people, mainly between 18 and 25, who are going out specifically to get as drunk as they can, and that causes problems with crime and disorder, and... A&E departments.

"The other end of the scale is chronic drinkers, who tend to be older, who are drinking more on a more regular basis, and therefore we are seeing an increase in cirrhosis and heart disease."

She wants to see more of a "continental cafe-bar culture", and less determination among Britons - statistically the biggest binge-drinkers in Europe - to get as drunk as possible.

Measures proposed in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England involve voluntary action by alcohol producers and retailers, and action from the government, police and councils.

    Specific measures include:

  • Targeting pubs and shops suspected of selling alcohol to under-18s; including police sting operations

  • Greater use of exclusion orders and fixed-penalty fines for alcohol-related anti-social behaviour

  • Police urged to use more community wardens to patrol areas like taxi ranks at night

  • Simpler "sensible drinking" messages and better alcohol education in schools

  • Review of the TV advertising code of practice to ensure it does not target young drinkers or glamorise drinking

  • "Social responsibility charter" for drinks producers which includes providing clear product information and health warnings

  • "Code of good conduct" schemes for shops, pubs and clubs, including providing information on alcohol

  • National audit of alcohol treatment services; better training for medical staff

Ministers say they may introduce legislation such as forcing pubs to contribute to policing costs, if the coercive approach fails.

Is binge drinking a problem?

Alcohol campaigners welcomed the strategy, but warned it did not go far enough to cut the 33,000 deaths a year from alcohol misuse.

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said alcohol services were hugely under-funded.

"Only 95m a year is spent on alcohol services, compared to 500m for drugs," she said.

Chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Eric Appleby, proposed a 3%-5% levy on the 200m spent annually by the alcohol industry on advertising.

This money could be ploughed back into health campaigns on alcohol, he said.

Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the government had laid down "a clear challenge to the industry to deliver on its commitment to encourage, support and promote responsible drinking".

Alcohol misuse costs 20bn per year in health care and lost earnings
Six million people binge drink each week
47% of victims of violent crime thought their attacker was drunk
Alcohol is behind 40% of A&E admissions
"We are determined to play a full part in responding to that challenge and building on the widespread good practice that already exists."

But police said the problems associated with binge drinking had been "festering" for at least 10 years, because the chances of being punished for anti-social drinking were slim.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, speaking on Sunday, said government action on drinking had so far been "ineffective" and the report was a belated response.

"The number of people charged with drunk and disorderly behaviour is down and just five pubs have had their licences revoked in recent years."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow criticised the strategy as "incredibly weak" and said alcohol misuse should be treated as seriously as drug problems.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Six million people are now binge drinking"

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