Thursday, July 24, 2003

Anti-alcohol campaigns: do they work?

A report in the US suggests that campaigns aimed at getting students to reduce their drinking don't work. The 'social norms' campaigns put posters on campuses suggesting that most students drink moderately. The idea is to counteract peer pressure.

The research has been criticised but there is perhaps an element of double standards going on. The campaigns are often funded in part by alcohol manufacturers. So, in relation to these campaigns, they would argue that advertising discourages drinking. However, in relation to their own adverts, they argue that they do not act to increase consumption, just to influence brand loyalty.

I would argue they are right on the second count, but probably wrong on the first. Why people drink is much more related to their own individual desires and the social setting than to do with some wider moral or health picture. If I'm having a good time, I'll stay in the bar. If not, I'll go home. The poster on the wall matters little.

The fact is that alcohol is like anything else - it can be enjoyed without problem by the vast majority of people. Those who cannot handle it properly might need help and advice. But ultimately, they will have to decide for themselves what to do.

In the meantime, most college students have a perfectly healthy attitude to drinking: a hangover can last a day, but a good drinking story can last a lifetime.

New study shows college alcohol abuse unaffected by responsible drinking campaign, Newsday, 24 July 2003

Meanwhile, the same sentiment informs a new campaign by doctors in the UK to introduce labelling on alcoholic drinks. They want a label stating how many units of alcohol are contained in any drink, along with a note about how many units you are safely allowed per week. Whether this actually effects behaviour overall is open to question. The same kind of labels on cigarettes have caused more amusement than moderation.

Doctors call for health warnings on alcohol, Daily Telegraph, 24 July 2003

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