Drink advertising 'inspires young to start taking drugs'

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The Independent Online
HEAVY advertising of alcohol - particularly alcopops - and cigarettes may be encouraging young people to take illegal drugs according to a report published yesterday.

If young people are to avoid taking illicit drugs, the way we treat alcohol and tobacco must be seen as part of the whole context, says the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - adding that "alcohol is as much a dance drug as ecstasy or amphetamines".

The council said it was hard to prove links between one type of psychoactive substance and another. "But our conclusion is that if society intends to provide young people with an environment which helps them not to take illicit drugs ... or to reduce the harms which they do, the climate of awareness and beliefs on alcohol and tobacco must be seen as part of the context."

It focuses on the controversial alcoholic soft drinks which have been criticised for their advertising in the past. "Young people live in a society which heavily advertises alcohol and tobacco," says the report. "The advertising of alcopops has on occasion seemingly been targeted at young people and has at times veered towards encouragement of drunkenness."

In 1996 two of the most popular alcopops, Hoopers Hooch and Two Dogs, changed their labelling to replace the words alcoholic lemonade with alcoholic lemon after complaints. Carlsberg Tetley also had to withdraw its drink Thickhead temporarily because the label portrayed a young man who could appear to be under 18 and because it did not display the word alcohol prominently enough.

For many, illegal and legal drugs are part of the same world rather than being seen as separate, and the report notes that studies have shown that those who drink and smoke are more likely to try illegal drugs.

Mark Bennett, a spokesman for Alcohol Concern, said one of the great misunderstandings in society was that alcohol was not really a drug."We totally agree with this report," he said. "Under-age drinkers buying alcohol are all part of a risk-taking culture, which includes taking illegal drugs. I think we need to carry out more research into whether smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can lead to harder drugs, but I think it is clear that there is a cultural link."

The report also warned anti-drug campaigners against trying to stop young people going to raves, clubs and festivals because drugs may be available there. Rather they should realise that music and dance culture should be engaged rather than "deplored" and the places popular with young people should be used for drug prevention.

In a wide-ranging review, the council says drug misuse cannot be tackled without linked employment, education, housing and crime prevention measures.

It suggests involving the whole community in both discouraging drug abuse and helping users.

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