Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Governments Must Focus On Price, Availability And Affordability To Tackle Alcohol Misuse, Not Just Education

The Lancet has an editorial following the CMO’s recently published draft guidance.

They argue that education and public health campaigns are unlikely to be effective messures on their own:

Certainly, it is desirable to delay the onset age of drinking. US experience showed that raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 years (with minimum enforcement) substantially reduced deaths from alcohol related causes. However, education and persuasion are the least effective intervention and so advice by itself in England and Australia will likely make little difference unless it is complemented by policies that focus on price, availability, and affordability at the population level. The UK is often cited as a country that (because of industry influence and the possible political unpopularity of having a drinking age limit) has had an absence of effective alcohol policies, preferring soft measures like education campaigns on issues such as underage drinking, rather than tackling the root of the problem. It is no surprise then that the UK has some of the worst indicators of alcohol related harm in young people in Europe.

Of course we’ve recently seen a recent review of the evidence for the Department of Health come to a slightly different conclusion:

Classroom based education programmes delivered by teachers as part of the school curriculum have a high effect in reducing harmful drinking.

But be that as it may, the problem I see with the editorial is that by looking at the draft guidance out of context from the Youth Alcohol Action Plan (let alone the broader Alcohol Strategy) seems to have allowed the writers to see this as a stand alone strategy rather than part of a wider set of actions that are happening around alcohol use.

Whether the government are going far enough on price and availability of alcohol for young people is a fair question, but the idea that each action that is taken should be seen in issolation from the wider activity doesn’t seem like a helpful way of proceeding.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy

Youth Alcohol Action Plan Presentation

I’ve been sent the following presentation on the Youth Alcohol Action Plan by Matthew Scott, which you may find useful.

Matthew also points out there have been changes to the ECM website and have added a feature where you can sign up for policy updates.

Filed under: alcohol strategy, Government

Ed Balls on the Youth Alcohol Action Plan

I missed this video when it came out, but having found it you might be interested in what the Secretary of State had to say on launching the action plan earlier this year.

Filed under: alcohol strategy, Government

Safe, Sensible, Social – consultation on further action

The Department of Health are consulting on the next steps in the alcohol strategy.

The relevant questions to us, or so it seems to me, are:

  • Do you think there is enough advice available for those who want to drink less? What other kinds of help are needed and who should provide them?
  • Should alcohol advertising include health and unit information? How could this be achieved?
  • In addition to providing alcohol treatment for the small number of drinkers with a serious dependency problem, what else could be done, and by whom, to support people who find it difficult to cut down on their drinking?

Should you have thoughts about these questions you want us to consider then please use the comment section to let me know, or send me an email to andrew.brown@mentoruk.org.

Alternatively responses to this consultation must be received by the Department of Health 14 October 2008.

Responses can be submitted online to: alcoholconsultationmailbox@dh.gsi.gov.uk

Or by post to:

Alcohol Consultation
Department of Health
Room 618, Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road

Filed under: alcohol strategy

e-Consultation – Youth Alcohol Action Plan

I’ve just been reminded that the DCSF e-Consultation on the Youth Alcohol Action Plan closes on Monday.

If you have views on the plan – and I’ve heard some people say they think its good and some who are much more critical – then now’s your chance to say so directly to the government.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy, Government,

Youth Alcohol Action Plan

Zoe Williams writing in The Guardian doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the Youth Alcohol Action Plan:

This week saw the publication of the government’s youth alcohol action plan. Alan Johnson, the health secretary, declaimed incisively “I’ve got an eight-year-old and I wouldn’t consider giving them alcohol,” and Ed Balls orated firmly: “Nothing is ruled out.” Nothing at all? Might I suggest that we bring back school milk, only this time spike it with vodka? It is chiefly rebellion that makes children drink, and unfamiliarity that makes them drunk. Plus they never learn anything at primary school anyway.

In fact, the action plan is not just a document of not ruling things out. It contains certain measures to fox the under-18 drinker, including greater police powers, the apparent entrapment of dodgy off-licences (sending fake children in to buy alcopops – sorry, it’s the transactions that are fake, not the children); an ad campaign aimed at 11-15s; and, also mooted, a ban on alcohol ads before 9pm. But for the most controversial aspect of the anti-binge package, we return to Johnson’s eight-year-old. The law dates from 1933, when it was determined that adults were allowed to give children alcohol from five years old. This is now under review by chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, who said (also rather airily): “We are going to look at the evidence very systematically and see whether it needs to be changed or strengthened.” The most likely scenario is that parents will no longer be allowed to give alcohol to under-18s, with a possible custodial sentence for the parents of persistent young boozers.

Meanwhile in Children & Young People Now the criticism is that the plan doesn’t go far enough:

Responding to the strategy unveiled at the start of this week, Geethika Jayatilaka, deputy chief executive of 4Children, said: “A fundamental point is to reduce the number of young people drinking problematically and the government needs to set a goal.”

Anti-alcohol campaigners said the government should also have outlined its views on alcohol advertising in the plan.

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: “We hoped the government would use this opportunity to issue a statement on its thinking on whether alcohol advertising regulations should be tightened to prevent young people from being exposed to advertisements to the degree that they are.”

NUT also have a short piece about the plan on their website:

The education of children about the dangers of alcohol consumption will be implemented in schools, under new plans announced by the government this week.

As part of Labour’s Youth Alcohol Action Plan, schools will be enlisted to fight the growing problem of binge drinking among young people in Britain.

Further initiatives will include the launching of new publicity campaigns, as well as increased police and courts involvement and extra legislation to stop people drinking in public places.

Banning booze won’t stop teens bingeing says Dr Miriam in The Mirror:

This new proposal aims to curb binge-drinking among teens. But is it really the answer, even if it can be enforced?

In my opinion it’s a preposterous idea that won’t stop kids abusing alcohol.

The only way you can expect children to drink responsibly is if you introduce them to alcohol in a controlled way at home. Teenagers who drink alcohol with their parents in moderation are less likely to binge drink, according to a study last year by Liverpool’s John Moores University.

If the first time kids come into contact with alcohol is outside the home at 12 or 13 alcohol will seem more exciting, like forbidden fruit…

Learning about alcohol should be treated in the same way as explaining about sex.

Research shows that kids who get sex education earlier have sex later and are more responsible about using contraception – and I believe the same is true for alcohol.

Talk about it honestly, teach them the pros and cons, and children will grow up seeing alcohol as an enjoyable part of life but something to be treated with respect.

Ministers put campaign to curb alcohol adverts on hold | Society | The Guardian

Ministers have postponed further curbs on alcohol advertising and cut-price supermarket drink promotions despite police complaints that lager is being sold more cheaply than sparkling water.

The government’s youth alcohol action plan, published yesterday, acknowledged that drink advertising and price promotions play a key role in shaping teenagers’ attitudes to alcohol but said that further restrictions would not be considered until research is published later this summer.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy,

Youth Alcohol Action Plan

Youth Alcohol Action PlanSo we’ve heard and seen what the media coverage has been but what does the plan actually say.

In describing the actions they’ve taken around young people’s drinking they say:

there has been little focus on how to influence the decisions young people and parents make about alcohol and drinking in the home. While alcohol education in schools and general information campaigns have aimed to influence young people’s attitudes, there has been no specific social awareness campaign aimed at younger teenagers (11–15 years old) and no specific advice about low risk drinking by young people. The Department of Health’s guidance about sensible levels of ‘alcohol unit’ consumption was designed with adults in mind.

In part, this approach has reflected the view that, beyond the existing law on consumption, decisions about drinking alcohol, as opposed to buying it, are a private matter for young people and parents where the Government should not normally intervene. Additionally, alcohol has historically been seen as less worrying or risky than illegal drugs. Yet, as this chapter demonstrates, of all substances, the use of alcohol has shown the greatest growth and causes the most widespread problems among young people.

In terms of what the government are proposing they say there will be five priorities:

  1. Stepping up enforcement activity to address young people drinking in public places.
  2. Taking action with industry on young people and alcohol.
  3. Developing a national consensus on young people and drinking.
  4. Establishing a new partnership with parents on teenage drinking.
  5. Supporting young people to make sensible decisions about alcohol.

Enforcement against young people

Clearly the majority of our interest will be in the last three, but it’s worth having a view across the piece. The government say that young people drinking, unsupervised in public places is unacceptable, the type of drinking that will put young people at most risk and most likely to lead to problems for others (through crime and anti-social behaviour). They suggest they will bring forward legislation to ensure “suitable penalties” are available for those who persistently drink in public places, and they will make it an offence fpr under 18s to possess alcohol in a public place.

The sorts of powers they are looking at to discourage street drinking are:

  • increasing the powers of the police to disperse young people; and
  • extending the Direction to Leave power to 10-15 year olds.

Where there are young people repeatedly drinking in public and this is linked to anti-social behaviour they suggest the use of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, Alcohol Arrest-Referral pilots to be extended, and the use of parenting contracts with the families where young people are repeatedly caught drinking in public.

Should things continue the government will encourage the use of ASBOs, and implement new legislation to make it an offence for under-18s to “persistently possess alcohol in public places”. For parents this could mean the use of Parenting Orders. The plan also talks about new guidance to strengthen multi-agency working with these young people.

Action with the Industry

The plan says the government are considering strengthening and making the Social Responsibility Standards mandatory.

There will be increased sanctions on those breaching licensing conditions, and a reduction in the number of times retailers will be able to sell alcohol to young people before the sanctions kick in. And a yellow and red card system which could mean immediate withdrawal of the license.

There will be work done by the police and local authorities to identify “hotspots” of premises causing concern.

More funding for test purchasing campaigns, encouraging Challenge 21 and Think 21 to be rolled out, and more use of Proof of Age schemes. More industry training on refusing young people.

The government will consider further reductions on alcohol advertising.

Drinking Culture

The plan says there will be guidance about young people’s drinking which will:

  • help shape young people’s own choices about drinking;
  • inform – but not determine – parents’ decisions about their children’s drinking;
  • help parents to say “no” and set boundaries by establishing clearer expectations about what is sensible;
  • provide a clearer rationale which enjoys public support for any further Government action on alcohol and young people; and

The guidelines will specifically address the following key issues:

  • the age at which children and young people could start to drink alcohol;
  • how much is sensible for young people to drink; and
  • how far young people’s drinking should be supervised by parents or carers.
  • stimulate public debate about how young people could lower their risk from drinking.

Working with Parents

They are looking for feedback on the plan from parents (and others), and in specific pieces of work (such as the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on the amount of alcohol young people might drink).

The government will develop advice for parents, to be published next year, and will ensure that Parenting Early Intervention Programmes include a focus on young people misusing alcohol.

They will also extend the Family Intervention Projects to cover a further 500 families with substance misuse issues, which will be evaluated to find out what impact they are having.

Helping Young People in Making Decisions

The government promise a “comprehensive communications campaign about the risks of alcohol”, which will be aimed at young people (particularly those 11 to 15) and their parents.  On educational inputs they say:

Alcohol education in schools is crucial as it is designed to reach all children and young people of school age. Ofsted reports show that its delivery and quality could be improved. The current review of alcohol and drug education will report to Government shortly on how to improve the effectiveness of this education in schools. Amongst other things, the review will look at the guidance to schools on when and how to educate children and young people; how to identify young people at risk of alcohol misuse; and how best to support those already misusing alcohol – including when a young person should be dealt with in school and when it would be more appropriate to refer them to further targeted youth support. It will involve use of the Common Assessment Framework as well as improving the skills of the children’s workforce in order that they have the capacity and knowledge to respond appropriately.

They also point to other work already under way to improve out of school provision (under the banner of Aiming High for Young People) and talk about targeted youth support.  Finally they say that for those that need it alcohol treatment will be improved.

Should you want to comment on the Action Plan you can send a response to the DCSF via their consultations website.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy,

Tough talk on underage drinking

Channel 4

Young and drunk means trouble according to the government. Research suggests teenagers who binge-drink are twice as likely to commit a crime than those who don’t. So the government is getting tough with those who do – and their parents.

The Youth Alcohol Action Plan has been drawn up by three government departments. It includes a new offence for young people caught regularly drinking in public.

Separately, Channel 4 (drawing from PA):

Parents, meanwhile, are to be presented with new guidance about what age children should be allowed to drink, how much and under what kind of parental supervision.

The measures will be unveiled by Children and Schools Secretary Ed Balls today as part of a cross-Whitehall alcohol action plan.

Other moves include criminalising under-18s who refuse to stop drinking in the streets and court orders requiring their parents to step in.

The Independent

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, will draw up advice for parents on drinking by children. He will fix an age – likely to be 12 – below which they should not touch alcohol and will suggest safe limits for teenagers.

Teenagers persistently caught with alcohol will be given Asbos, which will impose curfews and alcohol bans, or will be put on acceptable behaviour contracts. Their parents could be required to attend parenting courses and, if they fail to get a grip on their children, could be prosecuted.

The Youth Alcohol Action Plan will create a new criminal offence for under-18s persistently caught drinking in public. Police will be able to move them on and then arrest them if they are later found drinking nearby.

The Alcohol Concern quote in The Independent is more critical than the one carried by the BBC yesterday.

The Daily Mail talks about the “nanny state” in their headline, but are more balanced in their reporting:

Parents are to be given a new age limit saying when it is acceptable to give children alcohol at home.

Currently, the law allows parents to give any child over five alcohol in a private setting.

But in another extension of the ‘nanny state’, Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson is expected to recommend an advisory age limit of 12 or more.

The Telegraph

It [the plan] comes as figures collated by the Liberal Democrats showed that in the past three years 31,710 pupils had been temporarily excluded from schools because of drink or drugs, while 1,500 were expelled.

Between 1999 and 2007, 23,411 children under 14 were admitted to hospitals for alcohol-related conditions.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, said the figures showed the huge social risks posed by widespread drinking among children. “If we don’t act now, we risk creating a generation that has permanently gone off the rails: excluded from school, suffering mental health problems and at a higher risk of being involved in crime,” he said.

The Times:

Parents are to be issued with official government guidance telling them at what age their children can start drinking. The step is part of an attempt to change Britain’s booze culture.

The advice will include information for parents on sensible alcohol levels for young people and how far they should supervise their children’s drinking.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, is to produce the guidelines in response to mounting alarm at the extent of under-age drinking in public and the extent of binge drinking among the young. It forms part of a package of measures announced today giving police new powers to tackle teenage drinking and urging all pubs and retailers to request ID to ensure that customers are over 18.

Filed under: alcohol strategy, Government,

Young People and Alcohol

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary:

There is alcohol education in schools, but we need to make sure this is as effective as possible in alerting children to the dangers of drinking.

We have now reached a worrying tipping point – where more 13 year olds have drunk alcohol than have not.

This is clearly a cause for concern.

Last autumn, we ran a half-term holiday campaign to confiscate alcohol for under-18s drinking in public places. Over the course of 4 weeks in just 23 local areas, nearly 3,700 litres of alcohol were confiscated – that’s the equivalent of about 6,500 pints.


“The police already take booze away from young people and fine them, but then nothing else happens. Young people simply move on to different places or spiral into difficulties and end up with a criminal record.

“Changes must actively involve parents. But many parents we work with are desperate to stop their kids drinking and haven’t been taken seriously when they ask for help. Too little investment is going into supporting families to help them to cope.”

Children & Young People Now:

Smith has announced that an £875,000 national crackdown on underage drinking in public will start next week, with police given more authority to enforce the ban.

She also called for the wider use of parenting contracts when alcohol is confiscated from underage drinkers. A multi-million pound public information campaign on the dangers of binge drinking will be launched this summer.

Cassandra Jardine in The Telegraph:

I am writing the cheque now. It’s for £1,000, the fine that I may be liable for when I break the “parenting contract”, which Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced for those who allow their underage teenagers to drink alcohol.

This summer, my 13-year-old and a tittering friend asked if they could have some wine with dinner. I said yes, not because I am weak or mad – though my children would dispute that – but because I was expecting it.

Twelve to thirteen is the age at which children start experimenting with alcohol, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, conducted in 2001. “This reflects a desire, especially in boys,” says their report, “to move on from child status.”

Also here from the same paper.

The Independent confirms that the focus of the government’s next social marketing campaign has changed from under 18s to over 18s:

She [the Home Secretary] said a £10m advertising campaign this year would highlight the dangers of binge-drinking and raise awareness on the recommended levels of alcohol consumption.

It would be aimed at the minority of 18- to 24-year-olds “whose capacity for alcohol consumption seems to be matched in some cases only by an appetite for destruction”.

The Daily Mail:

She [the Home Secretary] delivered the blunt warning that 13-year-olds who drink are now in the majority for the age group – giving a total of nearly 350,000 in England and Wales – while unveiling heavily-trailed “new” powers to tackle the problem.

Miss Smith, who has sons aged 14 and nine, said police could be given new rights to confiscate alcohol from underage drinkers – those below the age of 18 – caught by the police in public places.

She also threatened the parents of underage drinkers with “parenting contracts” which could lead to a £1,000 fine if ignored.

The Guardian:

Smith used a Home Office conference on alcohol enforcement in north London to warn of the dangers of underage drinking and confirmed that she was prepared to tighten 10-year-old police powers to confiscate alcoholic drinks from under-18s in public places if changes were needed: “I will listen to the police and give them extra powers to make it illegal for under-18s to drink alcohol in public so that they don’t have to prove reasonable suspicion, if needed,” she said.

But the home secretary highlighted the fact that more than 333,000 13-year-olds have drunk alcohol and said she wanted to get to grips with the problem of underage drinking.

She announced that from next week a new £875,000 enforcement campaign will get under way over half-term to confiscate alcohol from under-18s drinking in public places. A similar campaign which ran in 23 local police divisions last autumn led to 3,700 litres of alcohol being confiscated – 6,500 pints – and this year the campaign, which will run from February 9 to 24, will take place in 175 local police divisions across England and Wales.

The Times:

She [the Home Secretary] rounded on parents who provide large amounts of alcohol for their children and demanded thay they take greater personal responsibility. “Nearly half of the alcohol obtained by young people appears to come from the family home. It is clear that parents have to hear the message as well. The idea that you can hand your kids a six-pack of lager and tell them to disappear for the evening – with no thought to the consequences – is frankly baffling to me.”

Ms Smith announced that she would look at amending existing laws, dating from 1997, which allow police to confiscate alcohol in public places if they suspect a person is under 18.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy, ,

Home Secretary’s Alcohol Briefing

Home SecretaryI’ve just returned from a briefing the Home Secretary has given on the government’s alcohol policy.

As trailed in the media she announced that should current law not be sufficient she would legislate to allow the police to confiscate the alcohol of those young people under the age of 18 drinking in public. I think she was saying – but I’ll need to check this against the text of the speech – that she didn’t want to criminalise young people, rather the idea was to take positive action to reduce the harm they were doing to themselves and their communities.

Again as trailed, she spoke about the need for parents to take an active role in helping their children to grow up healthily. She said it was unacceptable for parents to hand their children a six pack and tell them to make themselves scarce for the evening. The government have already put £30 million into extending the support available to parents and it looks like this is another driver to that policy.

Much of the rest of the Home Secretary’s speech was concerned about the development of partnerships between local agencies to try to curb the excessive use of alcohol by older young people. And she made it clear that she expects local alcohol action plans to be in place within the next two months.

Ms Smith did talk briefly about how there was already much good practice on alcohol education, but acknowledged the need to improve on that.

In the Q&A after her speech I asked her whether she felt it was time for alcohol education to be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. To be fair, the Home Secretary didn’t fall back on the line that the science curriculum has a statutory role around substance misuse, but she did seem to think that PSHE was a statutory subject, something that I’ll be following up with her by letter today.

She did go slightly further and acknowledge that teachers could do with better resources for delivering alcohol education, which I’m sure will be welcome.

Srabani Sen, the outgoing chief executive of Alcohol Concern, also pressed the Home Secretary on issues to do with young people’s use of alcohol. She pointed out that much of young people’s drinking was done in the home environment and asked if the government were concerned about that too.

The Home Secretary responded by pointing to the expert group that the DCSF have pulled together to develop messages for parents about young people’s drinking.

The final point I want to draw from the briefing was that the Home Secretary seemed to confirm that the social marketing campaign promised in the alcohol strategy has moved away from being aimed at the under 18s to being for those aged 18 to 24.

The Home Office press release is here.

Filed under: alcohol, alcohol strategy, Government, ,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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July 2021