The Government has announced that it is getting a grip on underage drinking. Fewer pubs and off-licences are persistently selling to under-18 year olds. Is this the whole story?
However, this is not really solving the problem of underage drinking. In fact it could be argued that it is creating a worse problem on our city streets and local parks. Young people between 15 and 18 years of age have not changed just because the laws have tightened. They still want to go out with their friends and drink.
The Government puts the reforms down to tough enforcement and positive efforts by the industry and has published figures that show significant improvements.
The results of the national Tackling Underage Sales of Alcohol Campaign (TUSAC), during which 2,683 premises were targeted by police and trading standards officers during a 10-week campaign between 4 May and 13 July 2007, show that in nearly 9,000 test purchase operations children were only able to obtain alcohol in 14.7% of cases.
Only 22 premises (0.8% of premises targeted) sold alcohol to children on three separate occasions.
The figures signal a further improvement in the test purchase failure rate since national enforcement campaigns began three years ago.
In 2004, the overall test purchase failure rate was 50%. In 2006, it had dropped to 20%. In this latest and more targeted campaign it now stands below 15% overall.
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This is of course a marvellous achievement but could it perhaps explain why, anecdotally the number of youngsters on the streets and also at Hove Lagoon, in Hove Park and in Hove Recreation Ground (to name just a few popular haunts) seems to be growing.
Part of the problem is that there is nowhere for young teenagers to go on a Friday or Saturday night. In the old days they could blag their way into the pub and probably drink the equivalent of a couple of pints. Young people today are going to convenience stores or Dad’s cocktail cabinet and emerging onto the streets with bottles of vodka to drink neat or diluted with Coca Cola.
They are also discovering that you can buy a whole bottle of wine in the supermarket for the price of a glass in the local pub.
The result of this is that they become drunk much more quickly and to a greater extent than if they were allowed to have a semi supervised evening in the pub. And a natural consequence of this could be an increase in on-street anti-social behaviour amongst this age group.
No one would advocate reducing the drinking age so that 15 year olds can legitimately pass the evening in the pub but it may be that the new regime of tougher enforcement is plugging one hole only to allow seepage out of another. If we are going to take a tough line on banning teenagers from pubs we need to offer them an alternative that isn’t the street or the park.
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