Drinking age 'should be 21'

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The legal drinking age in the UK should be raised to 21 in a bid to curb binge drinking among youngsters, a new report for a leading thinktank has argued.

In an article for the latest edition of Public Policy Research, the journal published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), journalist Jasper Gerard claims that Britain has "lost the plot" over the regulation of alcohol.

Mr Gerard, a columnist for the Observer newspaper, warns that "tough love" is needed to tackle the "overwhelming" adverse social effects of binge drinking.

While acknowledging that no one measure would be able to conquer the problem of underage drinking, he argues that raising the age at which youngsters are able to consume alcohol would help teenagers come to view it as something "forbidden" to them.

The article also considers other actions which could be taken to stem drinking amongst youngsters, including the introduction of special "smart cards" for those aged between 18 and 21 which would restrict them to buying no more than three units of alcohol.

Taxes of drinks aimed at young people, including alcopops, should also be raised to deter their consumption by youngsters, argues Mr Gerard, who adds that retailers who sell alcohol to minors should be subject to more prosecutions and higher fines.

"By raising the age threshold it is at least possible that those in their early and mid teens will not see drink as something they will soon be allowed to do so therefore they might as well start doing it surreptitiously now," Mr Gerard writes.

"Instead they might come to see it as it should be: forbidden."

Politicians and health campaigners have become increasingly concerned about the misuse of alcohol by youngsters in recent years, with Department of Health figures showing that the number of under-18s admitted to accident and emergency with alcohol-related injuries has increased by 40 per cent in the past three years.

Last month an article published in the medical journal The Lancet also called for the drinking age to be raised to 21, with Dr Russell Viner, a paediatrician at University College London claiming that binge drinking was a "serious problem" among young people.

However, his call was rejected by industry bodies including the Bar Entertainment and Dance Association, (BEDA) which said that raising the drinking age would "simply further drive the trend towards unmediated access to alcohol".

Responding to the latest call to increase the legal drinking age to 21, the government said that it had no plans to implement such a policy, stressing that the "majority of people drink sensibly and responsibly".

"Instead, we are using a combination of effective education and tough enforcement to change the behaviour of the minority that don't," a government spokesman said in comments reported by the BBC.

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