Health fears fizz over alcopops

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Researchers at Strathclyde University have set alarm bells ringing in schools following findings that the popularity of "designer drinks" is on the increase among teenagers.

A study led by Gerard Hastings of Strathclyde's Centre for Social Marketing discovered what it calls the first systematic evidence that the new range of fortified fruit wines and strong white ciders is a cause for concern. The team, whose work was funded by the Health Education Board for Scotland, calls for an investigation into whether controls should be imposed on marketing the drinks known as "alcopops".

More than two out of three of the 824 west of Scotland youngsters aged 12-17 who took part in the study drank alcohol and more than half of these had tried MD 2020, the market leader sold as Mad Dog. More than four out of five of the teeny tipplers said they had tried one of the four brands of strong cider. The appeal of MD 2020 was strongest among those aged 13-15, but declined among 16 to 17-year-olds anxious to signal their maturity and coming of age.

The appeal of Mad Dog appears to be that it is sweet, pleasant, affordable and well known. Young drinkers thought it fashionable and cited its unpopularity with people of their parents' age. It was also easy to drink outside. The researchers conclude: "This appeal and the level of consumption seem to peak before adulthood, suggesting that these drinks are particularly attractive to 14 to 16-year-olds. It is also clear that their consumption is associated with drinking in a less controlled environment, heavier drinking, and greater drunkenness."

Meanwhile a conference on drugs in Edinburgh last week heard pleas for young people to be involved in policy-making. "They should be seen as part of the solution not part of the problem," Bob Forsyth, a senior development officer at the Scottish Community Education Council, told the seminar which was aimed at the new local authorities.

Mr Forsyth was backed by Sue Angus, depute director of education in East Ayrshire, who said: "Young people are easily capable of creating high-quality work in the field of drugs education and we underestimate the high level of maturity that they have. They also have to be involved in making policy. "

Neil McKeganey, director of Glasgow University's Centre for Drug Misuse Research, said an estimated 56 per cent of 16-year-olds had tried cannabis. "I presented these statistics to an audience in the Netherlands, a country generally thought to have a drug problem, and they were shocked," Dr McKeganey said. "Over there the figure would be nearer 20 per cent."

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