23 February 2018
ALCOPOPS and EXCESS DRINKING
A statement in the NZ Herald jumped out at me the other day. One of the Auckland City Hospital's emergency doctors said that she was shocked on hearing a father congratulating his underage, teenage son on being three times over the limit in the blood alcohol test!
We can pass laws, we can wring our hands and blame the environment, and whether young people are from an affluent home or at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale it makes very little difference. We have a strong culture that accepts excessive drinking, stemming from the days of European settlement and the lone men coming to town and spending their earnings on drink. Today, in many settings, drinking is necessary to prove oneself part of the group, and our young people are t vulnerable and susceptible victims.
A binge drinking culture cannot exist without adult support and encouragement, and sadly there is plenty of that. The sale of alcopop drinks is a new and insidious factor in the mix. Children generally do not like alcohol, it is an acquired taste and the alcopop drinks with their very sweet taste and often high alcohol content, which is tasteless, seduce them and others into thinking they are fine and they drink them like a soft drink.
When we were staying to Japan where soft drinks and alcoholic drinks are all mixed up in the local convenience store and look the same , we bought what we thought was lemonade. The can had a picture of a lemon and the shopkeeper said "rimonade", which seemed to clinch the identification. It was a lovely cool drink and being thirsty on a hot day we drank two cans quickly. When our son came home, he looked at the cans and said "do you realize this is alcohol?" and showed us the very tiny lettering [in English among the Japanese lettering] on the bottom of the can which said "sake" and gave a percentage. The language barrier meant that we had no idea that we were consuming alcohol. Fortunately we didn't have several cans and then get in a car to drive! It was the uninvitingly named "Pocari Sweat" which is advertised all over Japan, that maybe we should have been buying.
For young people and even children who are given these drinks by adults there is no awareness of the alcohol content or how high it is [>14% for some drinks]. They get sucked in and have no idea what they are drinking. If you don't believe that these are directed at young people then look at the labeling and the packaging, its just like Fanta or Coke or fruit juice. - this does not happen by accident.
It is interesting to ask the question, who benefits from producing these drinks? Obviously the company producing them, and the Government gets taxes from their sale. The shopkeepers make a good profit. If raising the drinking age and the price of alcohol is considered to be helpful in reducing consumption, it could be equally helpful to look at whether alcoholic soft drinks should be marketed.
We do need to change our attitudes to alcohol and drinking which lie deep in our nation's culture. Prohibition, which the Temperance movement advocated, does not work. Many young people who binge drink are doing so to conform - for the approval of their mates or to experience the euphoria and highs [especially with other drugs] and escape the emptiness and angst that is so often a part of teenage years. No one's children are immune to this, no matter how bright and sensible we think they are, peer pressure is a very strong force. Children need to have an alternative vision of who they are and what they can be before they can resist those pressures.
If we teach them that they do have a choice, to say yes to life and no to the things which will destroy them, and that they are the precious sons and daughters of our loving God then they have an opportunity to develop the confidence to make choices for themselves, which bring life for them and those around them.
We need some real caring for our young people done by all of us. Packaging alcohol in a way that makes it so easy for young people to drink it like soft drink cannot be good. Maybe those who dream up the advertising and the ideas, those who market it and those who make a profit from it also need to be accountable to society for their actions.
We are told in Matthew 5:13 , "you are the salt of the earth But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."
Maybe our saltiness needs to include a perceptive compassion for young people in the environment we all contribute in making for them.
May God give us the wisdom we need.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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