LONDON – Britain is considering a ban on "happy hour" discounts at bars and restaurants to curb drinking, a spokesman said Saturday, as health advocates warned that a rise in liver-related deaths among young people may signal a future epidemic.
Health officials will decide on whether to ban the happy hours — designated times for discount drinks — once an independent policy review is published in coming weeks, a health department spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
The proposal was one of several aimed at stemming a trend in binge drinking in recent years, particularly among teenagers and young adults. The government also plans to spend 10 million pounds ($15 million) on a new public awareness campaign, and wants to improve enforcement of laws against underage drinking.
A health advocacy group said some of those young people were now showing signs of liver-related damage usually seen in older people.
Given that it can take 15 to 20 years for liver disease to develop, the British Liver Trust warned that the figures suggested the problem would only get worse.
"We're seeing a steep increase of deaths in people in their 20s and 30s," Trust spokeswoman Imogen Shillito said. "This indicates a big problem for many years to come."
National statistics show a steady rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths that typically fell heavy drinkers in their 40s and 50s who have abused alcohol for decades. From 1991 to 2006, the number of such deaths more than doubled to 8,758.
Alcohol-related deaths among people aged 25 to 29 were 40 percent higher in 2006 than the year before, Shillito said, citing national statistics.
Shillito said low prices for alcohol had helped encourage drinking among British youths, noting "they can buy alcohol with their pocket money."
The government plans to base its new alcohol policies, including possible new programs to help people reduce consumption, on the upcoming review by the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield.
Officials say the report should clarify whether retail practices lead to excessive drinking. They are considering a ban on a number of practices, including drinking games and speed-drinking events popular at some British pubs.