The law in this country states that it is illegal for anyone under 18 years to consume alcohol or to work in licensed premises; to buy alcohol or to have it bought for them anywhere. Those over 16 may drink a small amount with a meal in a specially allocated area, but beyond that they face arrest and prosecution. In spite of this the law is frequently broken. Following the example of adults, for whom alcohol is the most used drug, several surveys show that children try alcohol.
68% of boys and 54% of girls (in the UK) appear to have tried it by the age of thirteen. The majority may not drink to excess but many have already experimented with the effects of intoxication. The young do not seem to know the dangers and public houses frequently hold discos which attract them in. Stewards find it difficult to assess who is below the age limit. The increase in consumption expected when the price of alcohol falls is bound to include youngsters. the serious implications of this must be faced, not least because drug abuse is closely linked to alcohol abuse.
Clearly the law has a role to play. The police must be encouraged to enforce age limits, and, if necessary, licensing hours should be restricted. Unfortunately, this may inconvenience legitimate drinkers and deprive landlords of potential legal business. Having extra police and stewards may be useless since 16 year olds are not easy to pick out anymore. One solution offered by the Portman Group is the identification card system whereby only 18 year old will carry age identification cards. This should help, but even one of the director involved admits it is only a contribution.
The alternative lies in education. Adults can help by example and by de-glamorizing alcohol. Children can be taught about the risks to health and to performance, about the chances of being involved in violence or serious accidents and the dependency which lands many in hospital wards. Alcohol surveys all suggest considerable ignorance coupled with extensive experimenting. Children can be taught of the strength of different drinks and of the risks, not through the fear of punishment, since the numbers involved indicate that approach has failed, but through lively personal schemes like the "Booze Beat Show'. The many schemes run by city councils can teach them to adopt a more responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption.