The UK drinks industry is facing a triple-whammy of impending legislation that will fundamentally change the way alcohol is bought and sold over the next few years, according to market analysts Euromonitor.

Central to the changes in consumer behaviour are the introduction of extended opening hours, changes in advertising, and limitations on smoking, all of which were discussed at a recent seminar in London, featuring leading trade figures.

Decisions on whether to grant late licences would be dependent on local authorities, which would make it impossible to run national promotions unless they comply with the strictest local legislation.

"In recent years the focus has shifted from the producers to the trade and their promotions, and they have been slow to respond to the criticism," said David Paley of drinks regulatory body the Portman Group.

New advertising restrictions are not so stringent as the industry once feared. The new ban on showing children at all, coupled with restrictions on sexual content is a result for an industry that expected worse.

But with future growth likely to come from increased consumption by existing consumers rather than increased penetration, the industry needs to resist the temptation of pushing the boundaries too far.

"Ads are a soft target, and it's up to us to be really responsible now," said Mike Paul of the importer Western Wines. "The future lies in our own hands."

The impending ban on smoking caused arguably the greatest concern, since it will have an enormous effect on the on-trade - an area many, certainly in the wine world, had targeted as offering real potential for growth.

As of January 2006, any outlets that serve food will have to enforce a smoking ban, something which may well lead to a 'twin-track' approach, whereby pubs will either ban smoking or stop serving food.

"We have to accept that we will lose custom," said Pamela Gregory of bar group Mitchells and Butler - a point echoed by Western Wines' Paul.

"Sales are already moving from the on- to the off-trade," he said, "and this can only accelerate that. Staying in is the new going out."