Scotland’s problematic relationship with booze is well known and has seldom been out of the news in recent years.
It’s no secret that too many of us are simply drinking too much.
While it can be argued that it’s a matter of personal choice, the social impact of alcohol dependency cannot be ignored. There’s the strain it places on hospitals and the justice system, not to mention the physical and emotional damage inflicted on friends and families by those too often under the influence.
Research shows that alcohol dependency often starts in childhood.
The law says you should be 18 to buy alcohol, and selling it to anyone younger is a crime.
But a recent survey suggests that one in three 15-year-olds drinks regularly, while one in seven 13-year-olds does the same.
The same report also suggested the number of teenagers who said they had tasted alcohol peaked in 2002 and has fallen since then. Yet underage drinking remains a problem.
So why are young people drinking so much, and how do they get access to alcohol in the first place?
Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The numbers of young people regularly drinking is concerning not only because of the potential damage to their health, but because of the risky situations they put themselves in when drunk.
“Young people are growing up in a world where cheap alcohol is so widely available.
“On top of this the alcohol industry spends hundreds of millions of pounds every year marketing their products and devising ever more creative tactics to encourage new groups of customers to start drinking.
“We know from research that the more young people are exposed to alcohol marketing the more likely they are to start drinking and if they do drink, to drink more.
“The introduction of minimum pricing is an important step forward to bring down consumption and harm across all age groups. However, if we want to protect young people from alcohol harm then we also need to consider more controls to reduce their exposure to alcohol marketing.”
Stephen Carr, a retailer from Falkirk who runs several shops in the district, says that young people look to buy alcohol from businesses they view as a “soft touch”.
He said: “In the shops I’ve run, we have not had many kids trying to buy alcohol as they know they won’t be sold. It’s not been a problem.
“I believe in staff training and being vigilant. Our staff won’t risk their jobs by selling to someone that might be underage. You need to send out the right message.
Stephen added he has noticed an increasing number of kids using fake identification cards, which can easily be ordered online, when attempting to buy booze.
To combat this trend, Stephen has installed an innovative ‘OKID’ scanning system which uses fingerprints to deter the purchase of restricted products such as alcohol at his store in Nethermains Road, Denny.
The machine is easy for customers to use.
On their first visit to the shop, they simply bring identification such as a valid driving licence or passport to prove they are of legal age.
A member of staff will then use the machine to scan their fingerprint, which takes 30 seconds.
One of the benefits of the machine is that, when a customer’s fingerprint is taken, it turns the print into a binary code.
The scanner remembers the code and not the fingerprint, which means that, each time a customer places their finger on the machine, it will remember the code.
Stephen installed the system as a voluntary measure and it does not form part of his licence to sell alcohol, which is issued by Falkirk Council.
They cost around £300, but some firms are now installing them as standard as part of wider commercial packages.
“I think it is worth the investment. The appearance of people in their mid-to-late teens can change quite quickly. They will show you an ID with a picture that doesn’t look like them, and say ‘that was a picture taken last year’.
“This system combats this. Many of our staff know our regular customers anyway, but this removes any doubt they might have.”