Think tank recommends raising drinking age to 21

20 April, 2007

Portman Group and trade disagree with public policy proposal

Increasing the legal drinking age to 21 would not solve binge drinking, according to key figures in the drinks industry.

Writing for think tank The Institute for Public Policy Research, journalist Jasper Gerard has called for more restrictions on the sale of alcohol to help deal with the problems of binge drinking. But alcohol standards body the Portman Group said the move would drive problems underground, and retailers fear it would kill weekend trade.

Andy Miller of Bideford Wines in Bideford, Devon, said: "It would probably scupper our trade completely on a Friday and Saturday night, when the majority of my business comes from 18- to 30-year-olds. It may help stop binge drinking, but it won't help me as a retailer."

Edward Oliver of The Local in Cromer said it is not the way to tackle binge

drinking: "You're not going to stop it just by changing the age they can buy alcohol; you need a change in thinking," he said.

David Poley, Portman Group chief executive said: "Stronger education to change the drinking culture is a better way of tackling these problems, not making drinking a social taboo. This would drive problems underground, forcing more young people to drink unsupervised, and so increasing the likelihood of accidents and anti-social behaviour."

Gerard's other proposals include increasing the number of prosecutions and placing heavier fines on retailers who sell alcohol to minors.

Miller said: "We are persecuted by the authorities on that front anyway, so they should be focusing on the people who are buying the alcohol, not on us again."

Gerard's article also suggests that

society needs to practice "tough love" to stop binge drinking.

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

Gerard also recommends putting higher taxes on RTDs, restricting drinks advertising aimed at the young and allowing 16- to 21-year-olds to drink alcohol in pubs and restaurants with meals when accompanied by someone over 21.

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