COUNCILS have been urged to refuse new off-licences after a report revealed teenagers living near shops that sell alcohol are more likely to drink illegally.
Campaigners have called for a halt on licensing alcohol sales for new outlets, including supermarkets, amid concerns underage teenagers living close to them drink more than those living further away.
The warning has come after a study involving almost 1,000 Scottish 15-year-olds showed those who lived near an off-licence were more likely to drink every week.
Local authority boards have the power to refuse an off-licence but rarely do, said campaigners.
The report, by the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at Glasgow University, examined the drinking habits of teenagers living in the city.
Almost half of the teenagers admitted drinking alcohol every week despite being under the legal drinking age. Of these, almost one quarter living within 200 metres of an off-licence were regular drinkers. And almost one third of those living between 200-400 metres of an off-licence also admitted drinking alcohol every week.
But just 12 per cent who lived more than 600 metres away from the nearest shop selling alcohol drank regularly. It made no difference whether the teenagers were from a rich or poor family background.
Robert Young, a researcher with the MRC, said: “We were interested in finding out whether there was a relationship between living close to shops selling alcohol and whether that made a difference to the amount of alcohol teenagers consumed.
“We found those living very close to an off-sales premises were more than twice as likely to drink weekly, regardless of whether they were poorer or affluent and regardless of family background. They were also more likely to drink regularly if they lived in an area with huge clusters of outlets selling alcohol.”
The study has sparked demands from alcohol campaigners that councils stop granting new off-licences in areas where there are already many similar outlets. Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The density of premises and their hours of opening are closely linked to alcohol problems in an area.
“If you want to reduce alcohol problems in an area, the licencing board has to reduce the availability of alcohol. There are very few places that are not over-provided for. And the hours alcohol is on sale could be reduced.
“Councils need to look much more closely at this. Some have but others haven’t. They need to be much more robust.”
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council licencing board insisted it has begun refusing new off-licences in some areas.
He said: “Over-provision of licensed premises is something that the licensing board looks at very seriously. Our current policy statement identifies seven areas across the city where there is a general presumption against issuing any further licences.
“Applications for licences outwith these areas have also been refused. The city’s licensing forum is also looking at the issue of over-provision.”
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said businesses should not be penalised.
He said: “The reason 15-year-olds are able to drink is either because they are buying alcohol illegally, or someone is getting it for them.
“The vast majority of shops which sell alcohol do so incredibly responsibly, and it is more difficult now for underagers to purchase drink than ever. Those responsible businesses, whether they exist now or in future, should not be punished for the poor conduct of a minority.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is already an offence to purchase alcohol on behalf of a young person and mandatory for licensed premises to check anyone who looks less than 25.
“We are committed to bringing forward legislation to create a new offence for supplying alcohol to under-18s in a public place. The Licensing Act already requires local authorities to make an assessment as to whether there is over-provision, and these are leading to applications for new premises licences being refused.”