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Alarm over the child drinkers with liver disease

Shops and supermarkets could face new legal curbs on the sale of cut-price alcohol in an attempt to control rising levels of under-age and binge drinking.

An audit commissioned by the Home Office has found widespread abuse by drinks retailers of voluntary codes of practice intended to prevent alcohol abuse.

The conclusion of the study, conducted by the accountancy firm KPMG, comes as new figures show that NHS hospital admissions due to drinking have more than doubled in the past ten years. Almost 5,000 of the most serious cases involved under-18s.

About 120 people a day are admitted to hospital with alcoholic liver disease, according to one charity.

The number of drink-related admissions to hospital passed 200,000 for the first time in the year to April 2007, up 7 per cent on the previous year, a report by the NHS Information Centre shows.

Of these admissions, more than 57,000 had a primary diagnosis specifically relating to alcohol — such as drunkenness, dependence, cirrhosis or acute alcohol poisoning. One in ten of the 57,000 was aged under 18.

The findings cover the first complete year after the introduction of more relaxed licensing laws in November 2005, and contain little evidence that this has affected the British taste for alcohol.

Campaigners gave warning of a looming liver disease epidemic. Roger Williams, a liver specialist at University College London, said that he and colleagues were treating people in their twenties and thirties for liver failure and cirrhosis.

The British Liver Trust said that it generally took five to ten years to develop cirrhosis but alcoholic hepatitis could develop quickly and could kill. The trust said that 120 people a day were admitted to hospital with alcoholic liver disease. Whether young drinkers are more or less likely to develop cirrhosis remains a grey area. On the one hand they have smaller livers, but these are likely to be more robust.

“The relentless rise in admissions involving more and more young people is very bad news,” Professor Williams said. “The main source of cheap alcohol for young people is supermarkets. By making alcohol a loss leader they provide alcohol incredibly cheaply.”

According to a survey by the Office for National Statistics, more 13-year-olds have drunk alcohol than have not — equating to nearly 350,000 13-year-old drinkers in England and Wales.

The KPMG audit is focusing on drinks promotions in pubs, clubs, supermarkets and off-licences. The Times has been told that the results are “bad news” for an industry desperate to avoid further regulation, particularly over pricing.

A Department of Health spokesman said that ministers were waiting for the results of an official study due this summer before deciding “whether government intervention, including controls on price and price-based promotions, is likely to have an impact”.

The drinks industry is becoming increasingly nervous of the Government’s approach to alcohol abuse. Some even fear that the Government is intent on making alcohol as anti-social as smoking as part of a longer-term strategy to impose more restrictions on the industry. One source said: “If we give the Government something, where will it stop? They will just come back for more.”

The NHS Information Centre report shows that heavy drinking is common throughout all age groups. Almost a quarter of men and 15 per cent of women reported drinking over twice the recommended daily allowance in the week before they were interviewed.

The drug bill for treating alcohol dependency is also rising sharply. In 2007, 112,267 prescription items for drugs for treating alcohol dependency were prescribed by doctors, an increase of 20 per cent since 2003.

Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “These figures show a depressing rise in all the indicators of drink-related damage to health. Much of this is fuelled by deep discounting in supermarkets and off-licences, and this should be the focus of government action.”

While binge drinking among men appears to be stabilising, the same is not true among women. More than a quarter of women aged 16 to 24 reported drinking more than six units of alcohol on a single day in the week before they were interviewed. There was also fresh evidence that 24-hour licensing was failing to prevent drink-fuelled violence. According to the British Crime Survey, nearly a fifth of violent incidents take place around public houses and clubs.

Last week a 25 per cent growth in crime over three years by girls aged 10 to 17 was blamed on the ladette culture and under-age drinking. Young girls were responsible for more than 15,672 crimes of violence against the person last year, and 1,000 robberies.

Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England in Bristol, said that alcohol held a particular attraction for British teenagers compared to those from other countries. British teenagers were also more likely to report enjoying the effects of alcohol, and to predict that they would have a good time when they drank, than others, he said
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source: Times Online

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