UNDER-AGE drinking is widely perceived as the most serious type of problem drinking.
Such drinking can cause serious problems – children may progress less well in school or find it difficult to establish and sustain friendships.
But apart from the damage that children are doing to themselves, there is the damage to communities as a result of anti-social behaviour caused by under-age drinking.
In an area of my constituency, residents were suffering night after night from gangs of young people running riot.
At 5pm these gangs were hanging around the street corners, by 9pm they were fuelled with alcohol and causing mayhem.
The residents assumed that the local Co-op store was selling these children the alcohol – an accusation that the Co-op, as responsible local traders, was anxious to refute.
A surveillance operation was carried out in conjunction with the police and Trading Standards which revealed the alcohol had come from a number of retailers and it wasn't the children purchasing the alcohol themselves, but adults purchasing the alcohol for them.
Indeed, when the police followed up their inquiries with local parents, they found a very cavalier attitude among many parents to teenage drinking, with typical comments such as " I used to do it myself when I was their age – no harm done – it's just a laugh".
However, under-age drinking is a much more serious problem now than it was in the past, children are drinking at a younger age and they are drinking more, both in terms of quantity and strength of alcohol consumed.
In my constituency Southern Co-operatives has set up a joint initiative with the local authority and the local police to raise awareness of the dangers of under-age drinking and I was happy to help launch the project with the production of a hard hitting leaflet which was distributed with all alcohol sales in the Co-op stores throughout the project area.
The Co-op has robust procedures for ensuring that under-18s are not served alcohol, but one of the most common occurrences of assault or threat against store staff is when they challenge for proof of age.
There is of course a responsibility on the retailer but there is also a duty on the purchaser to take responsibility for their purchase.
A shift of attitude is needed where a potential purchaser expects to be asked for ID.
Currently, store staff are carrying the burden of responsibility in this matter and that responsibility should be shared by the purchaser, especially where the purchaser is an adult buying on behalf of an under-age person.
Government could help in this by making it compulsory for purchasers to provide evidence that they are legally permitted to purchase the age-restricted goods they are seeking to obtain.
• Sarah McCarthy-Fry is Labour/Co-op MP for Portsmouth North.