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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 13:11 GMT
How do we stop underage drinking?
By Vik Iyer
BBC News website

Woman lying on bench
The growing problem of underage binge drinking has sparked debate over the best strategy to counteract it.

Some claim alcohol is too affordable for youngsters and that it is still too easy for them to buy it from an off-licence.

However others argue changing lifestyles are to blame, citing society's attitude to alcohol is setting a bad example to young people.

Social factors, such as our attitude to excessive behaviour among young people, economic deprivation and family breakdown may also play a role.

You cannot expect young people not to drink when the whole of society is drinking excessively
Dr Christopher Record liver disease consultant

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, says: "It is undeniable that unfortunately a small minority of retailers do make mistakes and do sell to people who are underage."

He insists individuals who deliberately broke guidelines would be weeded out by the industry.

Mr Lowman says tackling sales through legitimate outlets was an important issue being dealt with by schemes, such as proof-of-age cards.

"But there are lots of other sources where people get hold of alcohol...from their parents or they send in older people to buy it for them."

Attitude change

Mr Lowman says similar or more relaxed alcohol regulations in other parts of Europe would suggest the UK's difficulties may be caused by wider cultural issues.

Dr Christopher Record, a liver disease consultant based in Newcastle, says: "Society tolerates alcohol abuse. You cannot expect young people not to drink when the whole of society is drinking excessively."

If young people are going to drink, then they should be encouraged to drink with adults and drink sensibly
Chief Inspector Val Prince, Lancashire police

He called for an attitude change to mirror concerns over smoking and added that alcohol should be more expensive.

In Lancashire more retailers have been fined for selling to under 18s than anywhere else in England and Wales, according to figures released in September.

Combating this issue required looking at education and enforcement policies, says Chief Inspector Val Prince, of Lancashire Police.

"Some young people are committing offences [caused by drinking] and some young people are victims. It is important these two strands are picked up," she says.

However she queries whether the problem could be mainly blamed on youngsters being able to buy alcohol.

She cites positive results from recent "sting" operations designed to test whether retailers are asking for identification.

Awards aim

"We did take part in the national test purchase operation and out of 65 retailers only 10 are going for review.

"Most of the off-licences are doing what they need to do. There is evidence that people are doing that challenging activity."

She says an award scheme project was getting under way in the area which would aim to encourage club, bars and off-licences to rigorously enforce the rules.

"We do know that, in terms of violent crime across the board, alcohol plays a significant part in these offences."

She believes the way to tackle the problem is partly through educating young people about how to drink in moderation.

"If young people are going to drink, then they should be encouraged to drink with adults and drink sensibly.

"If it is a group of young people, no-one is there to show them the rules."

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