Drink laws 'will cause liver disease among teenagers to soar'

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Indy Politics

More people in their twenties and thirties will suffer from liver disease as a result of extended drinking hours, according to the chairman of the Royal College of Physicians' alcohol committee, Professor Ian Gilmore.

In an interview with The Times, he said: "World-wide research shows that levels of consumption are heavily increased by price and availability. An increase in the hours of sale is likely to be associated with a rise, rather than a fall, in alcohol consumption. Cirrhosis of the liver has risen tenfold since the 1970s. Not only is cirrhosis getting commoner, it is presenting at a younger age and patients in their twenties and thirties with end-stage alcoholic liver disease are now being seen by liver specialists around the UK."

Dr Kieran Moriarty, professor of gastroenterology at the Royal Bolton Hospital, agreed with Professor Gilmore. He told The Times that hundreds of people in their twenties are undergoing treatment for liver disease already, a situation which will be made worse by the change in law. "I've seen five women in their twenties die of severe liver damage through alcohol," he said.

Professor Gilmore's comments contradict Tessa Jowell's insistence that longer hours will not mean a big increase in the amount of alcohol consumed.

The Culture Secretary defended the change in drinking laws on The Westminster Hour on Radio 4 last night, saying the Government has the support of police. But she said the change in policy will be kept closely under review, and will be modified if it leads to a huge increase in drink-fuelled crime and disorder.

"The policy is not wrong and I believe that time will prove it right. I have always said we would monitor its impact and if any of its unintended consequences materialise we will take steps to address those," she said.

"I don't think we are losing the argument. But when important new legislation is being introduced we as ministers have a responsibility to explain the impact of the new laws."

She again insisted that the Association of Chief Police Officers supported the new laws, despite comments from senior spokesmen warning it could fuel an increase in crime and disorder.

"It's not the case that Acpo have altered their view," she said. "They support the legislation. There are certain stipulations they make about the responsible behaviour of businesses, the responsible behaviour of individuals, and want to make sure the police have the necessary resources to use the greatly increased powers of enforcement this legislation gives them."

Ms Jowell has begun a concerted effort to defend the new laws, telling The Independent on Sunday that it is intended to "improve the quality of life."

She criticised Labour's advert encouraging youngsters to vote for the party if they couldn't "give a XXXX for last orders" as a "stupid slogan". She said: "It portrayed what is in fact a serious piece of legislation intended to improve quality of life and curb crime as some kind of advert for hedonism. Not the finest hour of Millbank's marketing whizzes."

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people dying from alcohol-related disease in the past four years has risen by 20 per cent. In 2000, 5,525 people died primarily from alcohol, increasing to 6,544 in 2004.

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