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Don’t treat alcohol like a drug, says drink lobby

The Sense Group is trying to discourage young people from drinking too much by appealing to their sense of shame through an advertising campaign.

The Sense Group is trying to discourage young people from drinking too much by appealing to their sense of shame through an advertising campaign.

Alcohol is not a drug and should not be treated as though it were one, the head of a moderate drinking lobby group has said.

Conflating the two was both unjust and dangerous, The Sense Group director general Ray Grech told The Times, because it sent younger people conflicting messages.

“How can children justify the fact that their parents enjoy a glass of their favourite alcoholic beverage at lunch or dinner when it’s being equated to a drug?” he asked.

The Sense Group, whose members are alcoholic drink importers and distributors, has this year opted to discourage young people from binge drinking over the Christmas season by appealing to their sense of shame.

Designed as though they were photos uploaded to Facebook, the posters show young people passed out or vomiting after having overdone it on a night out.

“We all know how hard it is to persuade young people to think of their health but their social life and how they are perceived by their peers matters,” Mr Grech said.

86%

proportion of Maltese under 16 who drink, according to 2011 EU-wide study

A 2011 EU-wide study found that 86 per cent of Maltese under 16 drank – more than the 79 per cent EU average. But Mr Grech urged caution when interpreting such statistics.

“In 1995 that figure for Malta was 89 per cent. Those youths are now in their 30s, with jobs and maybe their own families. Have they turned out to be a generation of alcoholics?”

Countries such as Ireland introduced laws banning promotions deemed to encourage binge drinking. Mr Grech said he was wary of this, which he said denied responsible drinkers money-saving offers.

There were also misconceptions around binge drinking, he added.

“Consuming two drinks is not binge drinking. The EU measurement for binge drinking is five or more in a short span of time.”

Members of The Sense Group were committed to “disciplined” advertising of their products, eschewing direct promotion at events such as open bar parties, Mr Grech was keen to stress.

Local drivers must ensure they stay below an alcohol-blood level of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. That 0.8 level is among the highest across the EU, and considerably higher than the World Health Organisation’s suggested 0.2 maximum.

Mr Grech pointed to local statistics, which showed that drink-driving caused fewer car accidents in Malta than in countries with lower limits, as proof there was no need to lower the intake limit any further. But could these statistics be skewed by poor enforcement of drink-driving laws?

“Of course, it’s even more irrelevant if breathalyser enforcement is not put into practice,” Mr Grech said.

“We believe more regular policing – and not just during festive seasons and special events – will deliver more results and sub­sequent caution by drivers.”

Nevertheless, it was not legal limits that created healthy drink-driving habits, he said.

“In reality it isn’t whether you’re allowed two drinks or one before getting behind the wheel, but whether you totally lack the will to control your alcohol intake when you know you’ll be driving soon after.”

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