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The growing costs of excessive alcohol consumption to individuals and society is well documented, but what about the impact on our future generations?

Alcohol is a factor in over 40 serious medical conditions, is a contributing factor in serious violence, sexual assault, and accidents, so why is more not being done to limit young peoples’ exposure to positive alcohol messaging?

In the UK we have the fastest growing rate of liver disease in those under the age of 30 than any other European country; up 112% in the past 10 years. This is not a problem that is simply going to go away, as the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) echoed in its recent #21billion campaign. Not surprisingly, it faced criticism from those in the alcoholic drinks industry. 

Only recently though, a survey in NE England revealed 49% of those 10-11 year old respondents had already tasted alcohol. Those who use social media and watch TV after the watershed were more likely to have tried alcohol. What was more alarming though, and sadly not surprising to us as a charity, is that 98% reportedly recognised the Fosters’ lager brand, 78% Smirnoff, and 67% WKD at age 10!! This is compared to just 85% of those recognising McVitie’s and 84% Ben & Jerry’s. 

There’s been plenty of research that shows alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that young people will start to drink regularly underage. The Science Committee of the European Alcohol and Health Forum concluded this in 2009. That was over five years ago and there’s been no major change in policy. 

We’re often faced with the fact that TV advertising of alcohol is on the decline, but the truth is that a large proportion of the £800m spent on alcohol advertising each year is on sports sponsorship, promotions, music festivals and the internet where the exposure to children is problematic. 

The Advertising Standards Agency does have what it describes as a strict set of rules for the advertising of alcohol. However, this doesn’t stop children coming face-to-face with alcohol promotional activity on a daily basis. 

Step into a supermarket with a child and what’s the first thing you’ll see? Almost always a promotion to encourage the purchase of alcohol. It’s no wonder then that children confidently recognise popular lagers and vodkas, amongst others I am sure.

I am not suggesting that just having an awareness of a brand of alcohol translates into a lifelong habit. As a qualified counsellor and someone who has struggled with alcoholism myself, I understand that there’s a lot of reasons why people become addicted to alcohol. However, almost always, those who form lifelong dependency on alcohol started drinking when they were a young teen, sometimes younger. 

That’s why it’s crucially important that the government addresses the constant exposure children have to the positive messaging of alcohol. They need to know that it’s a dangerously addictive drug; not that it’s a cool brand associated with their favourite sports team! Although admittedly not without its flaws, the French ‘LoiEvin’ framework is perhaps a more workable solution. The framework essentially allows alcohol marketing and promotion in media that is used by adults, but not where a significant proportion are children or young people. 

Alcohelp is a charity that seeks to prevent alcohol abuse through information and education.



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