Retailers claimed a minor victory this week when it emerged that police are about to receive new powers to tackle under-aged drinking.

As C-Store went to press, home secretary Jacqui Smith put forward a plan of attack, which included a proposal to ban under-18s from drinking in public.

It is already an offence for shopkeepers to sell alcohol to youths, and for youths to buy it, but bizarrely there is no law preventing them from actually drinking it. 

Smith also proposed that police be granted the power to confiscate all alcohol found on under-18s. Until now, police have only been able to seize drink from youths who were engaged in, or suspected of, antisocial behaviour, under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.

A ban on drinking in public places would prompt youths to drink in the home, rather than on the street, where they would be more likely to be supervised by an adult, Smith said. 

She also proposed that police issue on-the-spot fines to youths who refuse to co-operate with alcohol seizures, and demanded action from drinks manufacturers to reduce alcohol sales to teenagers.

Recent figures show that Britain has one of the highest levels of teenage drunkenness in Europe. The survey of 15-year-olds revealed that four out of 10 had been drinking in the past seven days, while a third believed that it was fine to get drunk once a week.

Meanwhile, speculation is building that Chancellor Alistair Darling may significantly increase the tax on alcohol in next month's Budget.