Government to launch anti-binge ad campaign

Government sources admitted the initiative would be sensitive, since the message would primarily be aimed at young people and will have to be carefully judged to ensure it is not counter-productive. Earlier government campaigns about the dangers of drugs were accused of glamourising the habit.

The move could cause political controversy. Opponents of the Government's decision to allow pubs and clubs to open 24 hours a day may seize on it as an attempt to deflect criticism that the shake-up of the licensing laws will encourage binge drinking. It may also be seen as a response to claims that the Government has turned a blind eye to alcohol abuse, which is estimated to cost the nation £20bn a year, while running campaigns on issues such as smoking and drugs.

Critics have accused ministers of focusing on a crackdown on criminal acts committed when people are drunk without complementing it with a message about the dangers of heavy drinking. Although the Government denies it is getting cold feet about the round-the-clock opening, it is to write to local authorities urging them to take account of objections from local residents when they consider applications by pubs and clubs to extend their hours.

Ministers insist that the Licensing Act, which takes effect on 24 November, will curb binge drinking by spreading closing times. They are expected to review 24-hour opening next March,but the Tories want the start date postponed and dismissed the review as "too little, too late."

The Council of Circuit Judges said the new law would lead to "an inevitable explosion in alcohol-fuelled violence" and ministers were stung by criticism that the change will undermine Tony Blair's plans to tackle anti-social behaviour and bring back "respect".

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