Sober reality of young lives ruined by drink
EVERY weekend the group of 13 and 14-year-old girls got together and played a game. They’d stand in a circle and drink straight spirits. The girl who remained standing the longest, won. Some needed their stomachs pumped afterwards. The doctors who told me about treating girls like this almost every weekend have every right to feel demoralised.
The use of alcohol has become more widespread and acceptable for children and young people. They are drinking more often and at riskier levels.
Forty-three per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds say they drink to get drunk; two-thirds of 16 and 17-year-olds think that ‘‘it is OK to get drunk occasionally’’.
In the past 10 years, about 15 per cent of all deaths of 15 to 24-year-olds were due to risky drinking.
But should we be surprised, when the alcohol industry seeks to recruit young people into a lifelong habit?
Alcohol products are designed, packaged and promoted to normalise alcohol use for young people.
Grog companies spend billions embedding their brands in the lives and lifestyles of young people.
The underage alcohol market brings in more than $100 million in profits for the industry. Sporting gear bears alcohol brand logos. Spirit brands run competitions to win electric skateboards and use social media to get their message to young people.
If a beer or spirit ad gets 10 million views on YouTube, an average of 600,000 children under the age of 17 will see it.
Promotions link booze to sports, music celebrities, sex and an enviable lifestyle.
Sponsorship of football, lads’ mags and music festivals sends a message to young people that the brand understands them and that drinking is something everyone needs to do to have fun and friends.
Music is also used to push alcohol to kids. In a study of 793 popular US songs, a research team found one in five had explicit references to alcohol and a quarter named a specific brand.
The latest Zoo magazine tells its 28,000 readers aged 14 to 17: ‘‘Here’s a good reason to go out, get slaughtered and urinate on a policeman: even industrial quantities of booze won’t destroy the grey matter’’ (which isn’t true).
Alcohol consumption causes more than 5000 deaths and 80,000 hospital visits in Australia yearly. The economic cost is about $36 billion a year.
In a paper delivered to the Right to Childhood conference in Sydney recently, Professor Mike Daube made the case for suing the industry, making it pay for the human damage.
‘‘There is massive evidence on the impacts of alcohol on our community. It is a health problem, a social problem, an economic problem, a law enforcement problem, a cultural problem,’’ Prof Daube said.
‘‘It is a cause of death, injury, violence, domestic violence, child abuse, workplace losses, road crashes.’’
Prof Daube says industry self-regulation codes are limited and toothless. The industry is skilled in countering threats to its sales by downplaying health and other consequences of alcohol use and promoting its own soft education.
What minimal regulation exists is not enough to prevent the massive alcohol-related problems we are seeing.
With a million dollars a day spent sanitising and glamourising alcohol directly to young people for whom it is actually illegal to purchase, how can the meagre budgets available to school for drug and alcohol education compete?
Advocates for change urge the following: PROPER curbs on alcohol promotion; REFORM of the tax system so that we can’t buy alcohol cheaper than bottled water; CURBS on the increasing numbers of sales outlets — often where their presence normalises drinking for young people; A FUNDAMENTAL rethink of licensing laws to quell the drunken violence plaguing our cities; LEGISLATION to prevent secondary supply to children and tougher penalties for supplying; EFFECTIVE warning labels; RAISING the legal drinking age.
Surveys show under-18s feel strongly about the levels of alcohol marketing they are exposed to and want regulation that provides stronger protection. They also want more health warnings. It’s time for real action to stop more damage.