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Drink and drugs

Jack McConnell, it appears, is to get tough on parents who are drug addicts after it was reported that an 11-year-old girl was using heroin.

The public are horrified to hear that around 60 children in Scotland are living in homes where there is a drug addict who might influence them into becoming child users of drugs.

No one seems to have been horrified to know that there are several hundreds of thousands of families where heavy alcohol and tobacco use are the source of addiction problems that impact on children as well. At least one third of Scottish homes have smoking parents, and 80-90 per cent of homes have parents who consume alcohol regularly. At least one in 10 alcohol users are known to be a problem drinker.

These facts have been known for years by drugs workers, teachers,the medical profession and voluntary organisations who work in the addiction field. An enormous amount of excellent work is regularly done to support families who are in these circumstances.

Typical of politicians, the First Minister wants to be seen to be doing something about horror stories in the press and comes up with yet another quick fix. When will they ever learn that the drug problem has taken years to develop and there is no way we can fix it overnight.

I see that there is discussion in the Scottish and UK parliaments about changing the laws on smoking and alcohol. I would like to remind our elected members that the current laws are faulty in a way that they do not seem to have noticed. You can smoke at any age: it is only illegal to purchase tobacco before the age of 16.

What we need is a change that makes it illegal to purchase or consume tobacco before whatever age they decide is sensible. This would also impact on the smoking of cannabis with tobacco.

Likewise, a child from the age of five can consume alcohol. The law currently states that "you cannot give a child under the age of five years alcohol". But it is also legal for 16-17-year-olds to purchase cider, beer, table wine or Babycham with a meal in a licensed restaurant.

I would like to suggest that, when this law is being discussed, these matters should also be addressed if we are serious about wanting to protect children and young people from the dangers of alcohol misuse at an early age.

Max Cruickshank Youth work consultant and health issues trainer Iona Ridge Hamilton

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