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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 16:56 GMT
Binge-drinking plans 'not enough'
Suspect being detained
Doctors say the proposals focus on crime rather than health
Moves to tackle the UK's binge-drinking culture have been criticised by doctors and charities for not going far enough.

This follows the release on Monday of a new government strategy to deal with the rising costs of alcohol-related crime, disorder and illness.

The British Medical Association called for "concrete action" rather than pilot schemes to tackle the crisis of rising liver disease in young people.

Alcohol misuse charities said more must be spent on treatment and counselling.

It is stronger on cleaning up the streets than on preventing physical harm
Professor Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians

The government's proposals include a clampdown on pubs serving under-18s and wardens to patrol taxi ranks, under the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England.

The law is also to be changed so drink-drivers who test positive at the roadside can be charged without a second test at a police station.

"The principle behind it is that rather than spending time taking individuals to the police station, officers will be at the roadside able to catch other potential offenders," a Home Office spokesman said.

Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians, said he was concerned the proposals would not curb excessive drinking.

He said: "The strategy calls for 'audits' and 'pilots' where we believe there is already more than enough evidence for action.

Young people must be made aware that having fun does not have to mean getting drunk three or four times a week
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association

"It is stronger on cleaning up the streets than on preventing physical harm."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said warning labels on alcohol were needed coupled with a ban on advertising.

"What we need now is concrete action to tackle the crisis," she said.

"It is a tragedy that doctors are starting to see serious liver disease in young people because of alcohol. It is also very expensive for the NHS.

"Young people must be made aware that having fun does not have to mean getting drunk three or four times a week."

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".

She wants to see more of a "Continental cafe bar culture" replace excessive drinking, estimated to cost the UK 20bn a year.

Is binge drinking a problem?

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

Alcohol campaigners want a more extensive strategy 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.

'Clear challenge'

Happy hours and other drink promotions were criticised, with Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, proposing 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".

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

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The Government thinks it needs to try to do something"

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