City marshals and teenage decoys to fight drink culture

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The Independent Online

Action to clamp down on underage drinking and drunken late-night rowdiness will be unveiled today as part of a campaign to combat Britain's alcohol culture. City-centre marshals, curbs on alcohol advertising, new warnings to consumers and even teenage decoys are being considered to help reduce drink-related problems of health and violence estimated to cost the taxpayer £20bn a year.

Action to clamp down on underage drinking and drunken late-night rowdiness will be unveiled today as part of a campaign to combat Britain's alcohol culture. City-centre marshals, curbs on alcohol advertising, new warnings to consumers and even teenage decoys are being considered to help reduce drink-related problems of health and violence estimated to cost the taxpayer £20bn a year.

Health warnings on bottles, new guidelines on safe levels of consumption and a review of advertising to stop "sexy" images of alcohol encouraging underage and binge-drinking will be proposed by the four-year Government review, set up to reduce the impact of alcohol.

The National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, drawn up by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, will also highlight measures to cut down on drink-related disorder, including schemes such as one in Manchester where council wardens have cut crime by patrolling late-night bus stops and taxi ranks at closing time.

The warnings come after leaked documents warned of increasing drink-related violence. Government figures suggest that alcohol produces 1.2 million incidents of violence each year, while 360,000 cases of domestic violence are drink-related.

Ministers insist they want to co-operate with the drinks industry but Government sources indicated that measures such as charging pubs for policing and introducing compulsory health warnings could form part of a "carrot and stick" approach if self-regulation fails.

Under the proposals, bottles could carry warnings about the number of units of alcohol, or could feature US-style health warnings or other messages designed to cut excessive drinking. Other proposals being considered by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, include using underage teenagers as decoys to help police target pubs where people under 16 are served illegally.

The Strategy Unit report will highlight the huge increases in underage drinking, with the under-16s consuming twice as much alcohol as they did a decade ago. It will warn that people aged between 18 and 25 are regularly drinking four or five times the recommended daily amount of beer, wine and spirits, and highlight the huge costs to the police and NHS.

Research carried out for the review shows that people aged 16 to 24 drink the greatest amounts, with 14 per cent of men in that range drinking more than 50 units a week - the equivalent to nearly double the recommended allowance. Government figures suggest that 20 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women binge-drink.

Alcohol is thought to cost the NHS up to £1.7bn a year, accounting for 40 per cent of admissions to accident and emergency departments.

Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, will unveil the strategy in Manchester as she tours schemes aimed at reducing alcohol-related trouble.

Campaigners welcomed the report but called for more support for centres to help the estimated three million alcoholics in England and Wales. Lord Adebowale, the chief executive of the charity Turning Point, said: "There is a danger that all the focus is on binge-drinking and antisocial behaviour."

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