Mad Dog leads young to drink

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Designer drinks lead to heavier drinking and more drunkenness among teenagers, according to the first systematic research among 14- to 17-year-olds, writes Glenda Cooper.

Fortified wines such as Mad Dog, or strong white ciders such as White Lightning and Ice Dragon, are a "cause for concern", as they appeal to young people more than conventional drinks, said researchers from Strathclyde University. Such drinks, with a high alcohol content, recorded total sales of pounds 40m in 1994.

Interviewing 800 Scottish young people aged 12 to 17, the researchers found designer drinks were most popular with the 13- to 16-year-olds. By 16 and 17, teenagers' tastes had begun to switch to spirits and bottled beers. Teenagers aged 14 and 15 consumed a wide range of drinks and wanted them to be strong, inexpensive and pleasant tasting - characteristics of designer drinks.

The study found strong cider and fortified wines accounted for the highest alcohol consumption, with an average intake in one drinking session of 6.8 units and 6 units respectively.

The authors called for debate to see whether further controls are needed. In the British Medical Journal Professor Gerard Hastings wrote: "This research provides the first systemic evidence that designer drinks - a new range of fortified fruit wines and strong white ciders - are a cause for concern.

"They do seem to have both tangible and emotional qualities that make them appealing to young people, often more so than conventional drinks."

The Health Education Authority said the findings echoed its own survey, which showed designer drinks were viewed most positively by 15- and 16- year-olds. "Like alcopops, these products strongly appeal to under-age drinkers, and with such a high alcohol content, this could cause big problems for youngsters," said Dr Lynne Friedli, the HEA's alcohol campaign manager. "There is a need to act on these trends to prevent more health risks in future years."

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