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Raising the Drinking Age No Solution to Alcohol Problems

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27 November 2009    


Raising the legal drinking age back up from 18 to 20 will do little to reduce excessive alcohol consumption or its related health or social problems, according to a leading youth development organisation.  

Youthline says that a more effective approach would involve changing attitudes to drink amongst all age groups.  It adds that the media and the advertising industry have key roles to play in de-glamorising alcohol consumption.

“In one important sense, setting the legal age limit at either 18 or 20 involves an arbitrary choice, as the physical effects of drinking alcohol are not limited to people under the age of 20.  Moreover, rates of hospitalisation and alcohol-related injuries from car crashes are actually higher amongst young people in the 20-24 age group than amongst 15-19 year olds.

“It’s also inherently unlikely that young people under the age of 20 would stop drinking simply because it became illegal.  In all probability, there would be an increase in drinking at parties and in unregulated areas rather than in comparatively well-regulated places such as bars,” says Youthline’s Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Bell.

He adds that it would be much easier to curb teen drinking if New Zealanders in other age groups set a better example.

“While society often focuses on the negative consequences of teenagers drinking, it can be easily forgotten that young people model their behaviour on what they see around them.  The fact is that far too many adult New Zealanders drink to excess and this is bound to have an impact on adolescent behaviour.  

“It seems to be part of our national culture to rely on intoxication to help us relax and enjoy ourselves and we also tend to binge drink. If we genuinely want a reduction in teenage alcohol consumption, the best way to start might be by cutting down ourselves,” he says.

“Of course, it’s not just adult behaviour that influences young people.  They are, like the rest of us, on the receiving end of a constant swirl of media images and advertising, showing alcohol consumption as attractive, cool and desirable, whilst largely ignoring the downsides of excessive use.

“Academic research has shown a clear correlation  between exposure to television advertising and levels of alcohol consumption, with the correlation particularly marked in the case of young men exposed to beer commercials. An additional, new challenge is the emergence of alcohol advertising on social networking sites, which young people can view in private, typically without the knowledge of their parents.    

“The advertising industry and media should accept that they have a tremendous impact on how young people see themselves and the society in which they live.  They also exercise a key influence on how young people behave.  This gives advertisers a responsibility to present a fair and balanced view on the use and abuse of alcohol, rather than just glamorising consumption,” says Stephen Bell.

Founded in 1970, Youthline helps young people to reach their potential and provides them with a wide range of support and leadership opportunities.

For further information, please contact:
Stephen Bell
Chief Executive Officer
027 271 8151