Government urged to tackle 'passive drinking'

The Government must tackle the damaging effects of "passive drinking" and give communities greater influence over licensing laws, campaigners said today.

Too many areas are "plagued by shouting, vomiting, fights, urination and other rowdy behaviour" and lax licensing controls must be reformed in favour of simpler laws which give communities greater influence, they said.

The call comes as the Home Office considers plans to overhaul licensing laws in a bid to crack down on binge drinking and tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder which costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion each year.

Campaign group Open All Hours?, a network of civic societies and residents groups, the Civic Voice charity and the Institute of Alcohol Studies all called for the licensing law to be tougher.

Matthew Bennett, chairman of the Open All Hours? network, said: "The coalition Government needs to ditch lax licensing controls which marginalise the community voice and support businesses that promote a responsible drinking culture.

"We all deserve vibrant, well managed and successful town and city centres which everyone can enjoy."

He added the Government needs to address "growing public concern about the impacts of stress and disturbance from irresponsible drinking on public health".

"Too many of our streets and town and city centres are plagued by shouting, vomiting, fights, urination and other rowdy behaviour," he said.

The campaigners called for the Government to transform public attitudes to the impacts of so-called passive drinking on public health in the same way that attitudes towards passive smoking have changed in recent years.

Licensing regulations should also be simplified and publicity for licensing applications improved, they said.

And the new regulations should "allow anyone with an interest in the quality of life of an area to influence licensing decisions, not just local residents".

They also called for the Government to tackle "the loophole of temporary notices which gives freedom from all licensing conditions for up to 96 hours for commercial premises".

But Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "Measures to tackle irresponsible behaviour on the supply side are important, but we mustn't forget that excessive alcohol consumption is fuelled by public demand, which must also be addressed.

"It is essential we understand the reasons why people choose to get drunk and then we can equip them with tips and advice to help them change their behaviour."

Drunkenness in licensed premises and on the streets was just the visible side of alcohol misuse, and many people were inadvertently putting themselves at risk by drinking too much at home, he said.

"Alcohol misuse is undoubtedly a blight on UK society and needs to be stopped."

Launching the Government's consultation on alcohol licensing reform in July, Home Secretary Theresa May said communities need to be given greater flexibility to find a solution that suits them, dealing with irresponsible premises while allowing late-night drinking where it is wanted.

Measures to make it easier for communities to influence licensing decisions, tougher penalties for those selling alcohol to children and higher licensing fees to cover the cost of extra policing are also being considered, as is a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price.

Last year there were almost one million alcohol-related violent crimes, with a fifth of all violent incidents taking place in or around a pub or club, and almost two-thirds of these happening at night, the Home Office said.

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