Most youngsters drink alcohol by the age of 13

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The Independent Online

Britain has arrived at a "worrying tipping-point" where a majority of the nation's 13-year-olds – equivalent to 350,000 youths – have already started drinking alcohol, Jacqui Smith has warned.

The Home Secretary signalled tougher action against parents who encourage home drinking as she disclosed that ever-growing numbers of children regularly sampled alcohol when they entered their teens.

Ms Smith also promised that young adult binge-drinkers who displayed an "appetite for destruction" would be targeted by police. But she hinted that the Government was unlikely to reverse the controversial licensing liberalisation that led to 24-hour opening for pubs, clubs and restaurants.

She said nearly half of all violent attacks were linked to alcohol and that more than one quarter of people believed drunken rowdiness was a problem in their neighbourhood.

Ms Smith told a conference on drink-fuelled crime in London: "We have now reached a point where more 13-year-olds have drunk alcohol than have not. This is clearly a cause for concern."

She called for greater use of parenting orders, requiring families to keep better control of their children, when youngsters are found drinking in public. Parents who refused to co-operate risk a £1,000 fine or a community order.

The Home Secretary said nearly half of alcohol consumed by teenagers had come from the family home, adding: "The idea you can hand your kids a six-pack of lager and tell them to disappear off for the evening, with no thought to the consequences, is frankly baffling."

Ms Smith said police would mount a new drive from this month's school half-term holiday to confiscate alcohol from under-18s caught drinking in public.

She disclosed that the Home Office had commissioned the auditors KPMG to carry out undercover work to check whether pubs, clubs, off-licences and supermarkets were abiding by voluntary agreements to sell alcohol responsibly. It would focus on cut-price drink promotions and could result in a change in the law to force retailers into line.

"It can't be right that you can still find promotions for 50p shots until midnight or 'all you can drink for a tenner' nights," Ms Smith said.

She said a £10m advertising campaign this year would highlight the dangers of binge-drinking and raise awareness on the recommended levels of alcohol consumption.

It would be aimed at the minority of 18- to 24-year-olds "whose capacity for alcohol consumption seems to be matched in some cases only by an appetite for destruction".

The review ordered by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, into the impact of longer opening hours is likely to conclude that the reform should stay in place. "I do not expect the impact of changes to licences on crime and disorder to have been as dramatic as some have suggested," Ms Smith said.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, accused Ms Smith of "populist puffery". He said: "Police already have the power to crack down on youth alcohol, and just need to use those powers more when needed."

Deborah Cameron, chief executive of drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said: "Many parents we work with are desperate to stop their kids drinking and haven't been taken seriously when they ask for help."