The buck stops here

Messages about the dangers of alcohol should be targeted at children as young as 10

alcohol education programmes in schools are a failure, pupils told delegates bluntly at an alcohol abuse conference last week. And they suggested community education workers were better than teachers at getting through to pupils.

The event, Unhappy Hours: a culture of binge drinking and violence, was organised by Children in Scotland, and delegates heard that anti-drinking messages should be aimed at children as young as 10.

Karen Reid, a pupil and peer educator with Edinburgh-based voluntary health education group Fast Forward, said school anti-drink education was failing.

"I cannot remember being educated on alcohol," she said. Messages about the dangers of alcohol were more effective if they reached youngsters early, she said. "I'd like to see something substantial for young people before they get to the age when they think alcohol is great."

Fellow peer educator Gemma Burns was also critical. "Teachers would give us the basic facts - things we knew," she said. "The community educators spoke to us on our level. They got through by being aware of our feelings."

Peter Robinson, a former social worker attached to the Edinburgh liver transplant unit, said he had seen 14-year-olds with liver problems caused by alcohol abuse, and the problem was getting worse. "It is common to be listening to children as young as 10 and 11 talking about their drinking and partying."

Mr Robinson also said anti-alcohol messages were targeting the wrong age group. "It is normally addressed to people in their late teens or early 20s on a night out, and most 12 to 13-year-olds don't take that in. They get most of their information from school."

A film produced by the West Lothian Youth Action Project featured Alan from Whitburn, who revealed he began drinking at 12, and ended up consuming as much as a bottle of buckfast and vodka a day. He now has ulcers which cause pain and he coughs up blood when he drinks heavily.

Radio DJs were criticised for glamourising drinking culture. Barbara O'Donnell, national alcohol liaison offer with Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "The DJs make it acceptable that a night out is not a good night unless you are intoxicated and can't remember how you got home. It is not acceptable to put out messages like that, as it becomes the norm."

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, blamed supermarkets for normalising alcohol in society. "You go into the store and you see beer cans, you go to buy meat and there is red wine there," he said. "Alcohol is a unique product and should be treated as that. It is a dangerous product when abused."

He called for a return to a shop within a supermarket which sold alcohol, with a separate till operated by someone over 18.

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the blame should be put on adults, not children for replicating Scotland's drinking culture.

"It is about culture choice," he said. "It is a long-term ambition, but we need to start working on it now. We need zero tolerance on drunkenness."

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