SCOTLAND is failing to tackle the problem of teenage alcohol and illicit drug use, a Kirk minister who is a former violent criminal and drug abuser said yesterday, writes Chris Holme.

''There is a battle for the minds of these young people and that is a battle which is being lost,'' the Rev Cameron MacKenzie told a conference in Edinburgh.

''A lot of parents are assuming that they do not have to deal with this problem, when they very clearly do have to deal with it.''

Mr MacKenzie, 37, grew up in Paisley, started drinking at the age of 12 and spent two years in jail for repeatedly stabbing a man.

''The earlier part of my life was destroyed by drink and the later part was destroyed by drugs. I was brought up in a culture where drink was very much part of the culture, and that still exists today,'' he said.

After discovering Christianity, he trained for the ministry and was ordained in July this year. He is now a minister in Haddington.

Mr MacKenzie said he hoped his views as a ''living example of a scare tactic'' would have some effect but there were no easy solutions.

He said parents who used tobacco and alcohol laid themselves open to allegations of hypocrisy when chiding their children for experimenting with cannabis, and teachers were often ill-equipped to guide youngsters.

What was needed was an honest approach, providing teenagers with information, allowing them to develop their own choices with the help and support of adults. The conference was organised by Simpson House, the Kirk's drugs counselling service.

Workshops were planned by school pupils, including Amy Diop, 14, who said: ''All teenagers are going to experiment, and this conference is aimed at helping them make the right choice for them. If that is saying yes or if it is saying no, it's up to them.''

She and fellow Edinburgh Trinity Academy pupil Tara Glover, 14, were both critical of the failings of campaigns like Just Say No and Scotland Against Drugs.

''It is just old or middle aged people trying to be so cool. But someone trying to be cool like this is such a saddo,'' Tara said.

In a separate launch yesterday, the Health Education Board for Scotland (HEBS) claimed low self-esteem and self confidence led Scottish teenagers to binge drinking.

Edinburgh University researcher Dr Candace Currie said that despite drinking the same weekly amounts as their contemporaries in Belgium and France, the Scots got drunk far more often. There had also been a large increase in their alcohol consumption between 1990 and 1994.

''Perhaps there is something in the Scottish culture which encourages many teenagers in Scotland to get drunk rather than drink in moderation. In many European countries it seems that teenagers can have a good time without getting drunk,'' she said.

HEBS is now mounting a #195,000 campaign to encourage sensible alcohol use.

HEBS spokesman Martin Raymond said: ''We don't set out to shock. We don't set out to preach. We treat teenagers as people who can make decisions for themselves.''