A new report in the US is claiming that young people between the ages of 12 and 20 account for 25% all alcoholic beverages consumed in the US.

"Underage drinking has reached epidemic proportions in America," said Joseph Califano Jr., president of the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which issued the report this week.

The report, which analyses two years' research, also claimed that nearly a third of high school students say they binge drink at least once a month.

But the claims by Califano, have prompted the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the government agency that conducted the 1998 survey cited by Califano's group, to issue a statement saying underage drinkers account for only 11.4% of US alcohol consumption.

And the beverage industry has jumped on this discrepancy and accused Califano's group of scare mongering.

In a report published by Dow Jones, Phil Lynch, a spokesman for US drinks company Brown-Forman said: "It looks like Mr Califano and CASA have adopted Enron's accounting practices," 

Meanwhile Frank Coleman, a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the US was quoted as calling Califano "a serial abuser of statistics for sensational purposes."
 
The two sets of figures originate from a survey in 1998 on a National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. 25,500 people, including 9,759 between the ages of 12 and 20 were questioned in their homes.

While the 12-20 age group represented 38 percent of those surveyed, they account for about only 13 percent of the total population, and the government results took this age discrepancy into account.
 
Califano's figures did not make this adjustment but he said: "The household survey is taken by going into a home and asking parents if you can talk to their children. If parents are in the living room and you (the surveyor and the teen) are in the kitchen, the odds of getting a really solid answer are slim. So there's a tremendous underestimate in reporting."