The manner in which beers, wines and spirits are advertised by multi-million pound companies needs to be changed radically in a bid to lower the number of young people who are taking up alcoholism from an early age. This is according to a new report from Alcohol-use Among Adolescents in Europe, which argued a decision to focus on the negative messages in prevention may not be working as underage alcohol consumption continues to rise in member states.
Researchers found that it is fairly common for children aged between 12 and 15 to have tried alcohol, although clear differences were noted between the participating countries and the attitude to drinking young inhabitants had. Figures showed 60.4 per cent of those questioned had consumed beer, wine and alcopops at least once in their lifetime, while 34.2 per cent had drunk spirits. However, in the month before the survey was carried out, prevalence rates were nearly half of this at 28.1 per cent and 13.5 per cent respectively. It was also found the highest lifetime prevalence rates of drinking were among youngsters from eastern European nations, which were led by Estonia with 85.7 per cent, then Hungary at 84.7 per cent and the Czech Republic at 84.2 per cent. The lowest rates recorded as part of the study were in Bosnia and Herzegovina at 30.9 per cent and Iceland at 21.6 per cent. As a result of the findings, which included the opinions of 70,000 teenagers in Europe, campaigners have called for changes in the way alcohol is advertised to switch the focus to a more positive message to emphasise that it is cool and healthy to abstain from alcohol use. The report explained: "By focusing on positive messages instead of negative ones, such as saying 'drinking can kill you', investments in prevention programmes will have stronger and longer lasting effects." It also called for more accurate information campaigns that would dispel several "misconceptions" about both alcohol and drugs for young people. Speaking at a conference in Brussels to discuss the report, Hans Berten noted consumption of alcohol among teenagers is different in countries across Europe, with most people abstaining from abuse in Nordic countries where there is a stricter alcoholic policy. For this reason, Mr Berten said it is a better option to "allow students to take on an active role in prevention instead of being passive recipients". Although talking to teenagers about their consumption of beer, wine and spirits can be difficult for parents, they are advised to warn them of the dangers of overindulging from a young age to ensure they drink safely in future. Young people are also warned about the physical and mental side effects excessive consumption can have on them. Physical problems caused by alcohol include severe hangovers, stomach pains and unconsciousness, as well as the development of liver disease cirrhosis in extreme cases. However, mental issues - which can often be more difficult to identify - can result in addiction or depression, which can trigger when youngsters believe they need the beverages to make them feel good.