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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 19:58 GMT 20:58 UK
Reduce drinking age, says expert
Professor John Ashton
Prof Ashton says we need creative solutions to alcohol abuse
A leading medical expert says lowering the legal drinking age to 16 could help tackle the UK's binge culture.

Prof John Ashton claims the best way to encourage teenagers to drink responsibly is to treat them as adults.

Prof Ashton, Director of Public Health at Cumbria NHS Primary Care Trust, said most youngsters are already consuming alcohol by the age of 16.

Illicit drinking encouraged risky activities like unprotected sex and anti-social behaviour, he said.

On Thursday, the Home Office announced that fewer under-18s were able to buy alcohol after a crackdown on traders selling to youngsters.

A spokesman called the figures "particularly encouraging".

We have to get over the cultural misconception that alcohol is safe
Alcohol Concern

But Prof Ashton believes that over-16s should be welcomed into pubs for their own safety.

He said: "Teenagers are drinking in risky circumstances. They go to parks, open spaces, or out on the street. They get drunk and have unprotected sex.

"We need some creative solutions and what we haven't tried is to treat them like adults, and to expect them to behave like adults in return.

"We also have to find ways of setting realistic ambitions, such as not drinking every night of the week or drinking with food, rather than just to get drunk."

In August, an annual poll by the NHS Information Centre found that fewer teens were drinking alcohol, but those who did drink were consuming more than ever.

The charity Alcohol Concern said the findings were worrying.

A spokesman said: "There is a sense that alcohol is innocuous. Some parents are relieved that their children are only drinking and not smoking or taking drugs.

"We have to get over the cultural misconception that alcohol is safe."

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