Friday, 13 February 2009

Age of confusion

Past experience shows that you can’t expect major drinks companies to do much to stand up for the consumers of their products, and their response to the recent official pronouncement that under-15s shouldn’t be allowed any alcohol at all was predictably limp. However, one spokesperson, Kristin Wolfe, head of alcohol policy at SABMiller, went beyond this and got her facts seriously confused. She said:

“It's important that children know where their parents stand: that underage drinking is not acceptable. The Chief Medical Officer's advice is an important contribution to reducing the harm caused by underage drinking and will hopefully contribute to making a real difference.”

She added that SABMiller believes that people who are under the legal drinking age should not drink alcohol and supports efforts to raise awareness among parents, retailers, and other adults about the risks of underage drinking and giving alcohol to young people.
However, to be strictly accurate, 18 is not “the legal drinking age” in this country – it is only the age at which people may purchase alcohol in bars and off-licences. They are allowed to purchase beer, cider and wine at 16 for consumption with a meal in a table-service restaurant. And parents may legally give their children small quantities of alcohol from the age of five upwards, so, if anything, five is the “legal drinking age”. The government advice was not a statement of the law, it was going well beyond what the law demands.

Clearly it wouldn’t look good if drinks companies appeared to be actively encouraging parents to give their children alcohol. But they are doing neither themselves nor their customers any favours by eagerly appeasing every piece of anti-drink nannying spewed out by the authorities. Could they not have simply said that it should be a matter for parental discretion? And it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when they display such ignorance of what the law actually is.

And do the brewers really, hand on heart, want young people to grow up never tasting alcohol until they reach 18, at which point they can go in the pub and, never having touched the stuff before, drink three pints and throw up?


  1. Another inspired post TPC.

    I was at an international conference in Brussels at the end of January, and the Labour rule about alcohol and under 15s was mentioned by one of the speakers. There were audible gasps of shocked incredulity from the French delegates, followed by laughter.

    Now, which country has the alcohol problem and which doesn't?

    It really is upside-down thinking.

  2. The 'Authorities' have no authority.


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