Drive more of us into pubs as a way to curb our anti-social drinking habits. That seems to be the reasoning behind a ban on drinking in public now being proposed for the whole of Abingdon.

The call for the street drinking ban comes during the week that the British Medical Association branded alcohol abuse in Britain today as an "epidemic", in a report that slammed minsters for working too closely with the drinks trade rather than tackling the "emergency" with higher taxes.

Britain is one of the hardest drinking nations in Europe, particularly when it comes to young binge drinkers, and Abingdon's problems simply reflect in microcosm those of the nation as a whole, where about 50 pubs per month are closing.

But all the same, how would a town-wide ban in Abingdon affect the ailing pub trade there - already down and in many cases out too, judging by the numbers of boarded up premises, now even including the lovely King's Head and Bell? ("When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England," wrote Hillaire Belloc).

The landlord of the Cross Keys, Roland Mayer-Jones, said: "The effect on trade will depend entirely on how it's introduced and enforced. For instance, smokers are now forced out for a cigarette and sometimes they like to take a drink with them.

"Perhaps there should be a designated area of pavement outside pubs where drinking will be allowed."

He added: "It would also be a shame if families couldn't have a picnic with a bottle of wine or two in, say, Albert Park.

"But pub drinking is the most regulated way of drinking. Parts of the new Licensing Act require landlords to check on the ages of drinkers and keep an eye on how much customers drink.

"Potential trouble-makers would simply be given short-shrift at the door. And of course the trick of someone a little older buying drink for youngsters to consume in public, perhaps in the car park outside, will be ruled out."

Pubwatch, the Abingdon pubs watchdog organisation, has discussed the proposed ban at its meetings. Pubwatch secretary Kim Gresty, of busy town centre pub the White Horse, said: "Representatives of the police and council did tell us that this was being proposed and we came out in favour of the ban - with a few reservations.

"At the moment, as soon as someone steps out of the pub and on to the pavement they cease to be our responsibility, even if they are carrying one of our glasses.

"But I would like to see pubs made responsible for the area of pavement outside their premises, as is the case in some countries on the continent."

She added: "We feel that licensees have been tarred with the same brush as supermarkets, yet we cannot sell drink at their prices and we face an £80 fine if anyone under 18 is found drinking on the premises.

"We don't mind becoming the unofficial police of drinking laws, controlling the drinkers, because that is what we already do anyway."

Paradoxically, the ban in Abingdon would bring about by the back door one of the key demands of the BMA report: it would in effect force up the price of alcohol for anyone wanting to drink outside the privacy of their own home - and the sheer cost might well deter young binge drinkers.

After all, pub prices are several times higher than prices of lager in some supermarkets, which sometimes sell it cheaper than mineral water.

Following the BMA report's publication, some supermarkets were slated for offering special-offer cheap alcohol deals that some said promoted irresponsible drinking, and pubs, too, came in for criticism for their promotion of cut-price drinks and Happy Hours.

But Ms Gresty said: "We don't have Happy Hours at the White Horse, but the Press seem to think that pubs encourage irresponsibility. The difference is that we offer a controlled environment."

The BMA report found that the UK's alcohol-related death rate rose between 1991 and 2005 from 6.9 to 12.9 per 100,000 people. It added that the cost to the health services ran into billions, with up to 70 per cent of all peak-time emergency hospital admissions being alcohol related.

The report said that price and availability were key factors here. It included a graph to indicate consumption rising as prices drop.

Here in Oxfordshire the charity FASD (Foetal Acohol Spectrum Disorders) has been founded by Witney couple Julia and Simon Brown to help children born with defects caused by alcohol. Their adopted daughter Niamh has brain damage.

Could Abingdon unwittingly be in the vanguard of tackling the binge booze culture, now exercising the minds of doctors and politicians, who are looking into all aspects of the trade from sizes of glasses in wine bars to prices in supermarkets?

Time will tell. Police area commander for the Abingdon district, Chief Inspector Phil Littlechild, said: "We found mostly that alcohol is connected to some of our criminal damage, often by young people misusing alcohol.

"Either they attempt to buy alcohol themselves or they ask others to buy the alcohol on their behalf."

The ban has the support of the council, which is now putting it out to public consultation and writing to licesees. If approved, it could come into force in the spring.

Council spokesman Nikki Malin said: "The police have analysed the current level of alcohol related disorder in Abingdon. The report has been presented to members of the council, who are satisfied there is evidence of alcohol-related nuisance and disorder to the public in town.

"At this stage it is intended that the order be applied to the whole of Abingdon to help reduce the likelihood of displacing the problem to other areas of the town as has been experienced elsewhere."