The Spanish government is looking at radical changes to its drinking laws with a ban on outdoor drinking and a rise in the minimum drinking age from 16 to 18.

The move is intended to outlaw the traditional Spanish "botellon", a custom of sustained drinking in public areas over weekends. Speaking at a conference on youth, alcohol and drugs in Madrid yesterday, Interior and deputy Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said the government intended to bring in the new laws during this session, after negotiations with the regional governments

Rajoy said that the new measures would include tough restrictions on the sale of alcohol, bigger fines for bars caught selling alcohol to minors and restrictions on alcohol advertising.

"The principal cause of death among young Spaniards is from traffic accidents related to alcohol consumption," Rajoy said.  He added that national laws would mean the end to the discrepancy and variations in alcohol legislation between the different regions.

After discussions with autonomous local governments and business, the new legislation is to be presented to the Council of Ministers before the summer and, if things go as planned, to Congress during this current session, Rajoy told the conference. The government's policy shift follows local crackdowns on the botellon in cities such as Madrid and Seville
A survey of underage drinking in Spain carried out in 2000 revealed that some 76% of 14 to 18 year-olds had experimented with alcohol and half that number were regular drinkers.