Last November, new alcohol licensing laws came into effect that spelled the end of a venerable English institution - the mandatory 11pm closing time for pubs and bars. The nightly ritual of ringing a bell to signal a bar's closing was as familiar a British icon as black cabs and double-decker buses. Now, drinking establishments can apply to open as long as they want, a move the government hopes will help end binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence plaguing the country. But two months on, experts and pub-goers say the change has had little effect, and evidence suggests the British penchant for irresponsible drinking continues unabated. 'I don't think it's changed very much,' said Ian Macaulay, 54, as he had one last drink at the Tyburn pub on busy Edgware Road in London on a recent Saturday night. 'Binge drinking does go on at weekends,' he said, but he and other drinkers pointed out it happens mostly at nightclubs, not pubs. The old laws, which forced Britain's 60,000 pubs and bars to close at 11pm on Mondays to Saturdays and at 10.30pm on Sundays, were introduced in 1915 because the government did not want workers in munitions factories to get drunk after work. But many believed the laws contributed to binge drinking problems by encouraging pub patrons to overdo it before closing time. When the old licensing regime ended, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said: 'For too long we have allowed a small minority to rule the streets at night and our main recourse has been a national curfew. This was unfair in principle and wrong in practice.' She promised to crack down on 'yobbish behaviour'. Half of all victims of violent crimes last year believed the perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol, according to Home Office statistics, while the Department of Health estimates treating people with alcohol-related health problems costs the government GBP1.7 billion ($23 billion) a year. Alcohol Concern, the national agency on alcohol misuse, said at peak times as many as 7 of 10 hospital emergency room admissions are alcohol-related. The new laws, supporters hoped, would encourage Brits to adopt more continental drinking habits, such as enjoying their tipple in moderation and while eating. So far, that has not happened. 'It's not going to change the drinking culture, which is what the government said it would do,' said Andrew McNeill, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies. 'It's not going to change British drinkers into Italians. You're not going to change the type of people who turn up in town centres already drunk - they're not suddenly going to restrict themselves to two glasses of wine over a bowl of pasta.' But neither have the new laws resulted in an explosion of booze-fuelled chaos, as many feared. That's because the police beefed up their presence over the holidays in anticipation of any problems, said Mr McNeill. The cold winter weather has also kept people at home. 'Most of the effects that we suspect won't really become apparent until later - I'm talking about summer,' Mr McNeill said. 'I think you'll probably find both public disorder and public nuisance will increase in the longer term.' Many feared the new laws would usher in 24-hour drinking throughout the country. But so far only 305 establishments have been granted 24-hour licences, according to the culture ministry. About 85 per cent of pubs applying to stay open for longer only wanted to do so for an hour or two extra on the weekends, according to official figures. There are no definitive figures yet on how many pubs and bars have applied to stay open beyond 11pm, although the government is working on a nationwide study. Pub and bar owners say the change in licensing laws will have little effect on binge drinking anyway. 'The vast majority of increase [in binge drinking] takes place outside of our sector. The purchases are actually taking place in supermarkets, and not pubs, so you can't link the two things,' said Neil Williams, spokesman for the Beer and Pub Association, which represents pub owners and barkeepers. He added that wine sales are growing faster than any other alcohol purchases in Britain, and most of those sales take place in supermarkets and convenience stores. Mr Williams and others believe the later opening hours are helping to cut down on the chaos that occurs when pubs all close at once, forcing large groups of sozzled people onto the streets. But Mr McNeill said in the long run that may exacerbate the problem by heightening competition with nightclubs. 'The late-night pubs are moving into territory that used to belong to clubs. The clubs won't just sit there and see business taken away by pubs,' he said. 'They will fight back by offering cheap drinks.' Mr McNeill said a more fundamental cause of binge drinking in Britain was because companies had been allowed to take over whole areas of English cities and towns with drinking establishments. As a result, there's nothing to do but get drunk at night. 'Everyone in this country and in northern Europe has the idea that southern European countries are more liberal, but in some ways they're much tougher than we are,' Mr McNeill said. 'For example, in Paris, they haven't allowed the centre of town to be taken over by the pub-club monoculture, which is what happened in English towns.' The toll alcohol takes in Britain is grim, with 21 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women identified as binge drinkers, according to social group Turning Point. In January, The Lancet medical journal found that the number of Britons dying from cirrhosis of the liver cancer as a result of heavy drinking is rising much faster than in other countries. In two four-year periods in the late 1980s and late 1990s, the number of Scottish men dying from the disease more than doubled, while in England and Wales the figure rose by more than two-thirds. For women, rates increased by a half over the same periods. However, in the rest of Europe over the same period, the cirrhosis death rate declined. The researchers also pointed out that alcohol consumption in Britain doubled between 1960 and 2002. Authorities seem desperate to do anything to curb problem drinking. Just this week, the BBC reported on one initiative by police in Loughborough, in Leicestershire, who set up a giant video screen on a Friday night in the centre of town. Residents out for the night were treated to clips of a drunk man trying to urinate on a door, then falling over backwards; two girls in an alcohol-fuelled fight, one of them straddling the other and bashing her head on the street; and a fight between a group of young men. Police hoped the surveillance footage would encourage people to drink more responsibly. Some took the message to heart, but others, clearly intoxicated, didn't care. One pair of 16-year-old girls slurred to the BBC camera crew that they had already had eight cans of beer between them, while a teenage boy said: 'It's alright binge drinking, mate. We've had a bottle of voddy [vodka] already.'