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Will the ban on booze have any effect?

Last week the Scottish Government announced proposals to ban over-the-counter alcohol sales to anyone under the age of 21. They also proposed setting a minimum cost at which a unit of alcohol can be sold. This aims to end discount promotions encouraging bulk-buying of alcohol and the ridiculous situation where it can work out cheaper than bottled water.

There is no doubt that alcohol has become more affordable, and as a result over the last 25 years consumption has increased. At the same time the strengths of wine and beer, two of the most popular drinks, have increased. As a nurse and mother of two sons in their early 20s, I am as concerned as everyone else about the consequences of alcohol misuse. But will these measures make a difference?

Last week I asked a variety of people, mainly under 25, what they thought about the proposals and any alternative solutions they had. It was interesting to hear what they thought. Few thought the proposals would have much impact on their own, but may help as part of a wider campaign to increase awareness of alcohol misuse. Here are a few of the alternative suggestions they made.

  • Better enforcement of existing laws already in place.
  • More severe penalties for pubs and clubs who continue to serve people who are already intoxicated.
  • Compulsory attendance at an alcohol awareness session for anyone arrested for any alcohol-related offences.
  • Compulsory attendance at alcohol awareness session for any underage drinkers caught by the police, and this should include their parents.
  • More provision of facilities for the under-18s.
  • Only allow sale of alcohol in regulated premises, as happens in Canada.

The figures for the cost of alcohol misuse are shocking and cannot be ignored. The total cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland is estimated at £2.25bn per year - £500 for every adult in Scotland. Almost half of Scottish prisoners in 2007 said they were drunk at the time of their first offence. The more I read the more depressing it got.

The annual poll by the Information Centre of 8,200 11-15-year-olds in England provides interesting findings about alcohol use in this age group. In this poll young people were more likely to have been given alcohol by family or friends than have bought it. They were more likely to have tried alcohol than cigarettes or drugs. More than 50% of those surveyed thought that their parents did not mind them drinking as long as they did not drink too much.

The survey found a consistent pattern of differences between attitudes to smoking, alcohol and drug use. Alcohol was the most prevalent and was also seen as more acceptable for pupils in this age group by parents and pupils themselves. While 55% felt their parents would be tolerant towards their drinking, only 2% thought they would tolerate them smoking.

Perhaps parents need to look at their own attitudes to alcohol. Education needs to target parents as well as young people and needs to begin at a young age. In Greater Glasgow and Clyde area where I work we unfortunately have the highest alcohol problems in Scotland. Both Scotland and England will soon be showing some hard-hitting adverts aimed at young drinkers, but will these have any effect.

As part of this year's GP contract we have a Local Enhanced Service (LES) for Alcohol and Brief Interventions. This should help establish a consistent approach in relation to screening and assessment. Practice nurses will all be able to access local training for brief interventions.

Alcohol is a major preventable cause of ill health that needs to be tackled by a mixture of approaches to target both individuals with existing alcohol problems and the wider population. So will the proposed increase in age to buy alcohol work?