Tuesday 3 June 2008

Driven to drink

There's nothing new about the under-age drinking moral panic, it was around in the 1980s and possibly before. But it has reached new heights (BBC News: Parents to get youth drink guide) with parents of under-age drinkers being threatened with parenting classes and prosecution, and encouragement (on pain of possible licence revocation) of sellers of alcohol to check the ID of anyone under 25 (a way of marketing ID cards to young people, perhaps?)

To be fair, there is one good reason why young people drinking excess alcohol is unwelcome - the increased health risks. Yet these vary from age to age, making the blanket ban on alcohol sales to anyone under 18, unfair. And counter-productive - as mentioned in the report, it is widely believed that "the illicit nature of alcohol added to its allure." The best way to reduce under-age drinking is to stop the irresponsible marketing of alcohol, by cheap promotions and advertising campaigns (which often appeal to young people).

Besides, the most often quoted reason for the clampdowns on under-age drinking is that it "leads to anti-social behaviour" - a message rammed down out throat by actual adverts, and by biased newspaper reports and "crime documentaries" (often seen especially on the smaller Freeview channels). Such Establishment propaganda masquerading as "news" or "public information" creates the impression that all under-age drinking leads to violence and vandalism. Yet not only is this overly simplistic, it also ignores the fact that much alcohol-related crime, including violent crime, is carried out by people over 18 and even well over 25. And is sometimes taken less seriously by the law than under-age drinking, as it can be harder to prove. (A few years ago, me and members of my family suffered a campaign of harassment by an alcoholic, in which he frequently threatened violence.) Indeed, it tends to be drunken adults, rather than teenagers, who are responsible for drunken wife-beating and child abuse, and drink-driving - less obvious to the public than "rowdy teenagers", but just a little more serious!

Even for young people who don't drink, the moral panic on under-age drinking has negative effects. Much entertainment, including discos and live bands, takes place in licenced premises (whether pubs or nightclubs) - which have always tended to exclude kids, and ever more stringent licencing laws are making this problem more acute, not less. No wonder, then, kids often have little to do but hang around on the streets. Where they are more likely to end up being enticed into joining a group of binge-drinkers.

And who can blame kids for wanting to "act grown-up" (of which drinking alcohol is often seen as a part), when they have to to get into half of the entertainment venues :-(

Enough to drive you to drink ... trebles all round!

No comments: