Drinking and smoking are as harmful to society as illegal drugs and the government should take greater action to prevent them, a new report has warned.
A wide-ranging report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) calls for tougher rules on advertising alcohol, including banning the sponsorship of music or sports events attended by under-18s by drinks companies.
It recommends taxes on alcohol be raised to act as a deterrent, in the same way research shows they have for smoking, and calls for the age at which cigarettes can be bought to rise to 18.
Most controversially, the ACMD urges ministers to consider tightening drink-drive limits for motorists under the age of 25, from 80mg per 100ml to 50mg.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) welcomed this call, but spokesman Roger Vincent told politics.co.uk that this limit should be cut for all motorists. He said such a move could save 65 lives a year.
However, transport minister Stephen Ladyman was quick to dismiss the idea, saying: "The government has no plans to change the drink drive blood alcohol limit from 80mg for young drivers or anyone else.
"We will continue to work with the police and others to drive home the message that drinking and driving kills.
"We continue to believe that education, robust enforcement and tough penalties are the most effective ways of persuading people not to drink and drive."
But today's report warns that this focus on education has failed to stop young people drinking, smoking or taking drugs, warning its success "has been slight or non-existent, and [efforts] can actually be counterproductive".
A survey for the ACMD reveals that 20 to 25 per cent of 15-year-olds are regular smokers, 40 to 50 per cent are drinking at least once a week and 20 to 25 per cent have used illegal drugs in the past month.
The council is particularly critical of the government's drugs education programme, which has cost £70 million over the past nine years, saying it has a "limited effectiveness in reducing rates of drug use".
The report says teaching is inconsistent and does not draw on best practice, and calls for a reassessment of the entire way in which schools teach young people about drugs, alcohol and smoking.
A government spokesman said it was committed to reducing the harm caused to young people by alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and noted that smoking rates among 11- to 15-year-olds were down to nine per cent last year.
A consultation had already begun on raising the tobacco age to 18, he said, and there was a new crackdown on retailers who sold alcohol and cigarettes to underage people. In addition, the Home Office was working with police to reduce access to drugs.