Target ‘enablers’ of teen drinking, says think tank

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People who buy alcohol on behalf of underage drinkers should face penalties including community service, shop bans or ‘social shaming’, according to a report from think tank Demos.

Information campaigns on underage drinking should also target parents, says Sobering up, while shop staff should be properly trained in how to refuse sales.

The report wants to see far tougher action on ‘proxy purchasing’ from local authorities and police, as a third of 11 to 15-year-olds surveyed reported obtaining alcohol in the previous month. One in five were given the alcohol by parents and the same proportion by friends, and 13 per cent had asked others to buy them alcohol compared to just 3 per cent who had illegally purchased it themselves.

Alcohol-related community service, such as clearing up city centres, would be a ‘justifiable penalty’ for proxy purchasing, says the document, along with prominently displayed ‘name and shame’ posters in off-licences. Although £5,000 fines are available in law for purchasing alcohol on behalf of a child, the current on-the-spot fine is £90.

‘The majority of teens get their alcohol through parents, friends and older siblings, rather than buying it themselves,’ said report author Jonathan Birdwell. ‘However, these proxy purchasers aren’t facing the consequences for the harm they are doing. All the evidence shows that underage drunkenness increases alcohol risks later in life.’ Far tougher action than the current practice of test purchasing was needed, he said, including ‘threatening parents who buy alcohol for their children to drink unsupervised with “social shaming” like community service’. 

Meanwhile, a report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) states that giving young people ‘the facts’ about alcohol and equipping them to make informed decisions helps to delay the onset of drinking. Of around 4,000 12 to 14-year-olds surveyed, those who had learned about alcohol and making responsible choices in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons at school were ‘significantly’ less likely to start drinking than those who hadn’t. 

Meanwhile, Portsmouth – cited in the Demos report as the first local authority to introduce a hotline for people to report proxy purchasing – has launched a new initiative to persuade off-licences not to sell beer and cider with an alcohol volume of more than 6.5 per cent. So far 25 retailers have signed up to ‘Reducing the strength’, a partnership project with Hampshire Constabulary.

Sobering up at www.demos.co.uk

Talk about alcohol: an evaluation of the Alcohol Education Trust’s intervention in secondary schools at www.nfer.ac.uk

For a full report on Alcohol Concern’s annual conference, see here