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.
Professor John Ashton, Director of Public Health at Cumbria NHS Primary Care Trust, said it would be better for youngsters to drink in pubs where they can be supervised rather than on the streets.
He also said the recommended levels of alcohol consumption are unrealistic in some circumstances, adding that to drink just 10 pints a week "was a non-starter" for "northern industrial working folk".
Mr Ashton, who is from Liverpool, said he believes that if teenagers are allowed to drink alongside older people they would learn to behave responsibly.
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 the UK could be facing "an epidemic of alcohol-related dementia from youngsters who have been drinking too much alcohol, and a rise in ministrokes from alcohol-related high blood pressure".