Leading doctors are accusing the drinks industry of targeting under- age drinkers with an "insidious" campaign promoting a range of alcoholic lemonades and colas.
The drinks are specially formulated to encourage younger people to make the transition from soft drinks to alcohol, critics say.
Alcohol Concern, the anti-drink lobbying group, has attacked the trade for its "cynical attempt . . . to hook young people on alcohol", and claims that alcohol is as dangerous as drugs.
At the launch of a major new report on alcohol and the young which concludes that drink is "at least as great a threat" as illegal drugs to child health and welfare, Philip Graham, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Child Health in London, and chairman of the National Children's Bureau said yesterday: "As far as the industry goes it is simply good marketing practice.
"They are doing nothing illegal . . . but by portraying 20- or 21-year- olds enjoying themselves with these drinks it obviously influences the 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds because that is how they want to be."
There are about a dozen alcoholic colas and lemonades now available in the United Kingdom with names such as Alcola, Memphis Mist, Hooper's Hooch and Lemon Lips. The alcohol content ranges from 4.2 per cent to 5.5 per cent, and there are plans to launch an 11 per cent version of Two Dogs, a lemonade, here next year.
Professor Sir Leslie Turnberg, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "They all have the same content as beer. This is an insidious way in."
Alcohol is responsible for "10 times as much damage and danger to young people as drugs", Professor Turnberg added, and is linked to aggressive and violent behaviour, depression and suicidal behaviour, poor performance at school and high-risk sexual behaviour.
The report of a joint working party of the RCP and the British Paediatric Association, chaired by Professor Graham, says that alcohol consumption is at a "worryingly high level".
The average consumption of 13-year-old boys is eight units per week (four pints of beer or equivalent), rising to 15 units in 15-year-old boys. The equivalent figures for girls are six and nine units. Six per cent of boys of 11-15 and 5 per cent of girls drink more than the recommended adult limits of 21 units for men and 14 for women.
Professor Roy Meadow, president of the BPA, warned that the impact of alcohol permeated every level of childhood, from the foetus whose development was compromised through its mother's drinking to the neglect, physical and sexual abuse of children by heavy-drinking parents. In addition, it was a major "killer and maimer" in drink-driving accidents.
The report makes 13 recommendations, including calls for tighter controls on all forms of alcohol promotion aimed at the young, and a review of the code of marketing practice.
It urges increased taxation to achieve a price disincentive, and a review of the "confused" legislation governing where and at what age alcohol can be bought and consumed.
A spokesman for the Portman Group, a research organisation representing the seven leading UK drinks manufacturers, dismissed claims that alcoholic lemonades and colas were a "new sinister element in drinks marketing ... the reality is that young people are already drinking more alcoholic drinks".
8 Alcohol and Young People; Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrew's Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4LE; pounds 7.50.
Main alcoholic 'soft drinks'
Name Producer/Distributor Alcohol
Hooper's Hooch Bass 4.7%
Two Dogs Merrydown 4.2%
(Alcoholic lemonade: 5.6% version to be launched in December 1995 and a 11% version in 1996; in Australia versions are already available containing vodka and tequila)
Diamond Zest Taunton Cider 5%
Lemon Lips Lanchester Group 5%
Cola Lips Lanchester Group 5%
Mrs Pucker's Alcoholic Intercontinental Brands
Mrs Pucker's Citrus Brew Intercontinental Brands 5.5%
Alcola Brothers Drinks 4%
Mad MacAulay's Booker's 5%
Memphis Mist Halewood International 4.9%
Huckers Cola Halewood International 4.9%
(Alcoholic cola)Reuse content