Alcohol advertising curbs demanded
Consultants have called on the Government to introduce new curbs on alcohol advertising to protect young people.
In an open letter to The Guardian, they warned the country is facing an epidemic of liver disease caused by a binge drinking culture and cheap booze.
The North East has been hit particularly hard with figures showing a 400% increase in the number of hospital admissions for people in their early 30s with alcoholic liver disease.
The consultants are supporting a campaign by Balance, the north east of England's alcohol office, demanding a stop to the alcohol industry recruiting young people as the next generation of problem drinkers.
Balance said children were "swimming through 40% proof advertising" and were being encouraged to start drinking younger, and to drink more.
In the open letter the consultants, mostly liver specialists and gastroenterologists, blamed the problem on our having created "an excessively pro-alcohol culture by selling alcohol for pocket money prices". They said a decade ago it was unusual for a liver specialist to treat anyone for alcoholic cirrhosis who had not reached their 50s.
"Alarmingly, this is no longer the case. In the North East we are in the middle of an epidemic," they add. "It is clear we need to halt this epidemic in its tracks, otherwise we will soon be treating young men and women in their 20s on a regular basis for a disease that is 100% preventable."
A spokesman for Balance said: "Early consumption is linked with a host of problems including brain damage, truancy, experimenting with drugs and unsafe sex. We don't think that it's normal for children to be bombarded by alcohol adverts while going about the business of being children."
Balance's petition demands a ban on alcohol advertising on television and non-18 certificate films in the cinema, as well as a halt to the sponsoring of sports and cultural events.
Research by Balance showed north-east hospitals recorded 189 admissions for 30 to 34-year-olds with liver disease last year, compared with 37 in 2002.