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Alcohol tsar to target city's drinking 'timebomb'.

Byline: By Shahid Naqvi

An alcohol tsar has been appointed to lead the fight against a drink-related crime, health and social "timebomb" costing Birmingham more than pounds 700 million a year.

The post is backed by a three-year alcohol strategy launched today aimed at reversing a view that "drunken anti-social behaviour is acceptable or normal".

It comes amid growing concern over binge-drinking and evidence showing children and women are hitting the bottle at an earlier age and consuming more than ever before.

Hugh Tibbits, appointed alcohol coordinator for the city in May, claimed the city and Britain are in the grip of a drinks culture that needs to be challenged.

"For the last 20 years we have been in a peak of the misuse of alcohol. It is the availability of it. The real price of alcohol is significantly less today than it was 20 years ago.

"Also there has been a change in culture in the last 20 years. People drinking is nothing new but now people are getting drunk before they go out and going out with the purpose of getting drunk.

"There has also been an increase in younger people drinking and the levels have gone up."

National statistics show that between 2000 and 2006 the percentage of girls aged 11 to 13 that had drunk alcohol rose by 82.6 per cent.

Among boys there was a 43.4 per cent rise. More than one million children are now growing up in families where one or both parents have drink problems. Drink was a factor in 1.2 million violent incidents and up to 17 million working days lost in 2004.

Birmingham's strategy will focus on four areas of reducing alcohol-related crime, improved treatment, better awareness among young people and improved services.

Specific measures include expanding alcohol-free zones in the city, introducing pub-watch schemes, taxi marshals and better late night transport provision.

Birmingham has a bigger than national average rate of alcohol dependency, says the alcohol strategy. There are currently 178,000 people aged between 16 and 64 who are either hazardous, harmful or dependent drinkers - a figure set to rise to more than 181,000 by 2010.

The city ranks 323 out of 354 authorities in the country for life cut short due to alcohol, with men losing a year on average and women five months. It is also near the bottom for alcohol-related hospital admissions (nearly 10,000 between 2002 and 2006) and for deaths due to chronic liver disease (16 for every 100,000 men and ten for women).

Mr Tibbits said: "In terms of health it is a timebomb. Hospital consultants are seeing people at a much younger age presenting with liver damage compared to 20 years ago.

"There are more women coming through with liver damage. There are some unknown long-term effects with younger people drinking, for example, the effect on the developing brain."

This summer saw the launch of the Government's alcohol strategy in response to growing concern over binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour.

Earlier this month a study found a drinking culture to be rife among people living in middle class areas.

shahidnaqvi@mrn.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 31, 2007
Words:526
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