The Portman Group is just one organisation supported by the alcohol industry to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to promoting responsible drinking.

We are currently celebrating 25 years of the Code of Conduct which was founded at the time when alcopops were launched. The founding principle of the Code was that products should not particularly appeal to under 18-year-olds.

While we are seeking to ensure that the sector doesn’t entice young people to drink, we are delighted to promote the important work of Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) in preventing underage drinking and alcohol harm to young people.

CAP creates local partnerships between local authorities, police, schools, retailers, neighbourhood groups and health providers, working together to prevent alcohol-related harm to young people, improve their health and wellbeing and enhance their communities.

In the 14 years since CAP was launched, there has been a marked shift in the number of underage people drinking as well as a fall in consumption among young adults. The majority (56%) of 11-15 year olds have never had an alcoholic drink – a reverse of the situation 20 years ago when drinkers were in the majority[1]. 83% of young adults (16-24 year olds) either do not drink or stick within the CMO guidelines[2], and 25% of young adults are non-drinkers[3]. These consistent falls are probably due, in no small part, to early interventions carried out by organisations such as CAP.

CAP operates in 45 local authority areas across England, Scotland, and Wales where a total of 216 projects have been launched since 2007. Their action plans are uniquely tailored to target local problems but will often follow the three-pillar model to educate, prevent underage sales and engage young people in positive activity to enhance their confidence, health and wellbeing.

To educate

Education is key to raising awareness about the impact of underage alcohol consumption on health and society and the laws relating to young people and alcohol. CAP’s focus on alcohol education is part of a long-term, preventative approach to ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge to stay safe from alcohol harms.

CAPs work closely with schools to provide evidence-based alcohol education, highlight the harms caused by underage drinking and encourage pupils to take part in the Royal Society of Health Young Health Champions to give them the skills and confidence to become peer mentors.

During the pandemic, with so many children restricted to online learning, CAP and its education partners came up with creative ways to ensure that alcohol education continued and could be accessed by all. It piloted an online version of the Young Health Champions programme and worked in partnership with Collingwood Learning to offer schools the opportunity to participate in Smashed Online – a powerful drama based alcohol education programme.

To engage young people in positive activities

In some areas, often the most economically deprived parts of the country where the effects of alcohol harm are highest, there are fewer opportunities for young adults to engage in meaningful positive activities. CAP encourages local partnerships to assess the leisure activities available for young people in their area, to consult with them about what they would like to do and look at ways to increase choice and accessibility. From bike maintenance to yoga, manga drawing and mental health awareness sessions, they provide safe spaces for kids to be kids.

As well as enhancing young people’s confidence, mental and physical health and wellbeing, these activities are also an excellent opportunity to deliver alcohol education in an informal setting.

To prevent underage sales

CAP works closely with the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group which was established in 2005 by national retailers in an effort to eradicate underage alcohol sales. CAPs maintain strong links with retailers, providing support, training and publicity materials to help them avoid making underage alcohol sales, adhere to Challenge 25 requirements for young people to carry acceptable ID and deter proxy purchase, when adults attempt to buy alcohol for children.

Stores that engage with CAP know there’s help available if they need it. They tend to see significant reductions in confrontations in store and abuse of staff and say it makes them feel more confident when dealing with difficult situations.

Implementation and results

CAP has a proven model which provides rapid results at a low cost, typically just £3,000 to £5,000 for each local partnership over two years. CAP’s robust evaluation framework provides a means for CAPs to measure their performance against key objectives. This has enabled it to demonstrate that CAP is a highly effective model achieving very significant improvements in key metrics linked to underage drinking.

Their impact is clear, with CAP areas demonstrating 61% average reductions in weekly drinking among 13–16-year-olds and a 50% reduction in young people asking adults to buy alcohol for them outside shops. There have also been improvements in retail operations with 99% of retailers implementing a Challenge 25 policy and 86% of retailers refusing to sell when they suspected it might be a ‘proxy’ sale.

Planning ahead

Looking to the future, CAP plans to extend its reach and set up more projects that engage with the 18-25 age bracket, especially in university towns. Growth will focus on high harm areas and priority areas are Scotland, Wales and the North East and North West of England.

Additionally, CAP will be conducting research into what they have identified as a main route for children to secure alcohol. Contrary to what you may initially think in terms of friends or small retailers being main suppliers, it is parents who appear to be the main source of alcohol with 71% of current drinkers aged 11-15 saying that they obtained alcohol from their parents.

Whilst the overall reductions in underage drinking are a great achievement there remain pockets of high harm to young people in some locations of the UK and CAP’s targeted localised approach remains of vital importance here. If you would like to find out more about their work, go to:


[1] NHS Digital 2019

[2] NHS England, December 2020 / Scottish Health Survey, September 2020/ National Survey for Wales, September 2020 / Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020

[3] 28% – NHS England, December 2020 / 17% – Scottish Health Survey, September 2020/ 23% National Survey for Wales, September 2020 /22% – Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020