Cut drinking age to 16 - health boss
Last updated at 01:00, Thursday, 11 October 2007
CUMBRIA’S top medical officer has called for the drinking age to be lowered to 16 after revealing that alcohol abuse is costing the county’s health service £30m a year.
Director of public health and county medical officer Professor John Ashton says it would be better for teenagers to drink in pubs - where they can be kept an eye on - than outside in parks.
He also said the recommended levels of alcohol consumption were unrealistic in some circumstances, saying to drink just 10 pints a week was a non-starter for “northern industrial working folk.”
His suggestion of lowering the age limit was welcomed by the director of Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service, whose annual general meeting he addressed last night.
Mr Ashton, who is from Liverpool, said he believed that if youngsters were allowed to drink alongside older people it would teach them to behave responsibly.
And he said it would be better for young people to drink in a controlled environment than be forced to drink in the streets.
He said: “We need to let youngsters drink from the age of 16 legally.
“I think it’s better they are inside in a pub with sanctions of normal behaviour, rather than outside in the park with no controls. We should be more practical about things - sometimes you have to forget your principles and do the right thing.”
And he warned that we could be facing “an epidemic of alcohol-related dementia" from youngsters who have been drinking too much alcohol and a rise in mini-strokes from alcohol-related high blood pressure.
Mr Ashton said the original Royal Society recommendation for alcohol levels had been for 40 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, but this had then been halved.
He said: “For most northern industrial working folk aspiring to drink 10 pints a week is a non-starter.
“We need goals that are aspirationally possible. We need to be more practical about these things.
“We are surrounded by an alcoholic culture in the north of England. It’s so normalised we don’t see it as a problem. It’s [seen as] a ‘good life’ to go out and get bladdered at the weekend.”
Latest figures show 21.1 per cent in Allerdale regularly binge drink, 23.3 per cent in Copeland, 23.2 per cent in Carlisle and 20.7 per cent in Eden.
Mr Ashton criticised the relaxation of licensing laws, saying: “The relaxation, without regard to how you do that amid Viking cultures in the north of England, was not necessarily a good idea.
“The notion you can wave a magic wand and we have got a Mediterranean culture in the north west seems to fly in the face of common sense.
“The culture in the north west has a deeply entrenched tradition that when you have got money in your pocket you spend it because you might not have it next week.”
CADAS director Paul Brown welcomed his comments, saying the separation of the age groups has led to a breakdown of social controls.
He said: “I agree with everything. Young people don’t see any worth in old people and old people just see youngsters as tearaways and scallywags.
“Before the family would give you your rules. Now it’s a gang and their rules are different. You obey your family - it’s just that it’s a different family.
“The first people you come to who say no are usually the police because no-one else will stand up and say no.”
First published at 16:43, Thursday, 24 January 2008
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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