Recent figures released by the charity Alcohol Concern have shown a huge rise in alcohol-related hospital treatment to under-18s. With the coalition Government keen to clamp down on drinks prices and availability, it seems the current administration is still wrestling with the hangover brought on by the Licensing Act of 2003.
The change in laws by the previous Labour Government has left not only long-term health and anti-social behaviour issues but also created a ‘booze Britain’ culture which is becoming increasingly accessible to under-age drinkers.
The figures showed under-age drinkers admitted to Accident and Emergency departments in the United Kingdom cost the NHS more than £19 million a year. In addition to this, the number of under-18s admitted to hospital through alcohol rose by a third between 2002 and 2007.
In addition to the Alcohol Concern figures, a new report by former Labour drugs advisor David Nutt has classified alcohol as the most dangerous substance available to the British public.
Professor Nutt, sacked by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson for his liberal stance on the declassification of certain drugs, found that alcohol rated higher as a harmful drug to both the individual and society than other substances such as crack cocaine and heroin.
David Cameron had previously spoken out about ‘the unbelievable low prices of some alcohol’. The Government will also review alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking, a trend increasingly common with young people in the UK.
One of the major problems brought about by Labours change of the Licensing Act was the power given to supermarkets to sell cheaper alcohol for more time of the day. The Prime Minister also talked about ‘loss leading’ by supermarkets – the process of selling alcohol in bulk at cost price or lower.
Groups for and against the introduction of a minimum pricing have been vociferous in their arguments about the prospect of this policy. Pricing measures have been opposed by bodies such as the British Retail Consortium, but called for by the Chief Medical Officer, and other health groups.
This makes alcohol readily available to under-age drinkers in two damaging ways. The first is that it is affordable to young people whether it is beer, wines or spirits. The second, and more worrying one, is that recent trends and the downturn in the economy have led many adults to abandon bars and clubs in favour of drinking at home. This means that children from a young age have access to large quantities of alcohol, and also witness its effects.
As someone who has worked in the drinks trade for nearly ten years, and as a young person who has seen the change in drinking culture that has happened in this country, I firmly believe that education is a valuable weapon in bringing about a positive change.
Alcohol has never been more in the public eye, whether it be bad press or advertising. Promotions and marketing are big business for large scale alcohol companies, and these campaigns all promote sensible drinking, but they also have a wide reach through advertising on television and other media outlets, a reach to the younger generation.
While the British alcohol industry has a lot to celebrate both in terms of history and products on the market, the current culture of drinking, the health and social implications and under-age problems are in urgent need of review.
A spokesman for the Department of Health recently said: ‘We must educate them so they understand how bad it is for their health now and in the long term,’ and Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware also said, “It is essential we understand the root causes of why young people drink, such as boredom, bravado, for self-confidence or to fit in. Only then can we hope to educate them about the risks of drinking and start to change their behaviour.’
Only through a better knowledge of alcohol and just what problems it can cause, both health-related and socially, can people under the age of eighteen have a better understanding of what decisions they are making with regards to alcohol.
Measures already implemented such as the removal of ‘all you can drink’, ‘girls drink for free’ and other deals that do not put a limit on alcohol consumed, plus the Challenge 21 and subsequently Challenge 25 age checks are a positive move forward in a lawful way of stopping under-age and binge drinking, but there are always ways around this.
Education still remains the best course of action to prevent under-18s from developing unhealthy problems with alcohol while unaware of the damages it can have.
Unfortunately for most of us, experience still does not help when it comes to alcohol: how many of us have woken up the morning after the night before and uttered the familiar words ‘never again’ until the next time?