Ministers vow to keep youngsters away from booze

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Ministers charged with delivering the Olympic Games have vowed to protect young people from binge drinking.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) officials reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring alcoholic drinks are not targeted at young people.

The pledge came after calls from doctors to introduce new curbs on alcohol advertising.

In an open letter to The Guardian, leading consultants warned we are facing an epidemic of liver disease caused by a binge drinking culture and cheap booze.

Figures showed medics in the North East were struggling with a 400 per cent increase in the number of hospital admissions for people in their early 30s with alcoholic liver disease.

Balance, the north east of England’s alcohol office, has demanded that there is a stop to the alcohol industry recruiting young people as the next generation of problem drinkers.

It said children were “swimming through 40 per cent proof advertising” and were being encouraged to start drinking younger, and to drink more. A DCMS spokesman said: “It is imperative we have robust, evidence-based alcohol advertising rules in place to ensure appropriate levels of consumer protection, especially for children and young people.

“There are strict criteria which mean that broadcast advertising for alcoholic drinks cannot be targeted at young people or encourage immoderate consumption and which prevent alcohol advertisements from being placed in any programme made for children or likely to appeal to under-18 audiences.

“Ofcom and the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have taken action to strengthen the alcohol advertising rules.

“We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the UK’s regulatory regimes to ensure that there is sufficient protection for the public.”

In the open letter the consultants, mostly liver specialists and gastroenterologists, blamed the problem on our having created “an excessively pro-alcohol culture by selling alcohol for pocket money prices”.

They said a decade ago it was unusual for a liver specialist to treat anyone for alcoholic cirrhosis who had not reached their 50s. “This is no longer the case. In the North East we are in the middle of an epidemic,” they added.

“We need to halt this epidemic in its tracks, otherwise we will soon be treating young men and women in their 20s on a regular basis for a disease that is 100 per cent preventable.”

Balance has demanded a ban on alcohol advertising on television and during non-18 certificate films in the cinema, as well as a halt to the sponsoring of sports and cultural events.

A spokesman said: “Enough is enough. Our children are being bombarded by alcohol advertising which is encouraging them to drink alcohol at an early age and in greater quantities.

“Early consumption is linked with a host of problems. These include brain damage, truancy, experimenting with drugs and unsafe sex.

“We don’t think that it’s normal for children to be bombarded by alcohol adverts while going about the business of being children.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government had already taken tough action to strengthen licensing laws through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act and was working to develop a strategy to reduce deaths from liver disease.