Hermione Eyre: There's only one way to stop us from drinking

Tell us we risk incontinence, or that we'll die young, leaving an unattractive corpse
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The Independent Online

The Government is planning a campaign to make excessive drinking "socially unacceptable" - to reprimand us, make us more aware of the physical risk, and generally encourage us not to sleep in the gutter.

I, for one, await this campaign eagerly, if only because I look forward to seeing what tactics they employ in attempting to convert my friends and me from bad statistics (hiccoughing women heading for cirrhosis) into good ones ("Ooh, an Appletize for me, please"). Just what will the Ministry for Culture and Sport come up with?

Perhaps it will design a nationwide series of billboard posters, rather like those Gorbachev introduced in Russia in the 1980s. Colourful drawings of strong, muscular women in headscarves, folding their arms and frowning when offered a shot of vodka, with a big speech bubble saying Nyet! "Yes, it's an old-fashioned idea," the policy wonks will say, "But aren't all the kids really into retro nowadays?" Indeed, we are, and the posters will become collectors' items, stolen as trophies by legless students who will plaster them up in the college bar.

Instead, then, we might see the Temperance movement revisited. Once again, young people will know the meaning of "Not for me, ta, I've taken the pledge." Government-funded tea parties will include a going-home present of a rubber bracelet that bears the legend, "I quit drinking and took up thinking!" Unfortunately, this initiative will work only on gentle, introverted types of people. That is to say, not Charlotte Church.

Miss Church recently announced that she can happily drink 10 double vodkas in a night. She is going to need a hard-hitting campaign. And so, probably, am I.

I was first socialised into the ways of drinking at school, where at 14, I learnt to smuggle vodka into my dorm by decanting it into shampoo bottles, and then at Oxford, where such practises were exchanged for far more civilised habits, such as drinking one's own shoe filled up with gin. So perhaps we women will respond to a campaign that implies we need to be a bit more ladylike? Perhaps we will see a TV advert in which a man is about to propose to a woman, until she is suddenly sick on his shoes, and he runs off into the night forever.

Obviously, this campaign would be the worst idea yet. I have been educated like a man, I work like a man, and I expect to drink like a man (only slightly less beer). Of course, I need to learn to restrict the quantities I ingest to what I can physically manage, which is bound to be less than a man. But to try and return female behaviour to what is "appropriate" for our sex is not viable in an equal society.

But of course, we know that government ministries are very keen to keep up with the times. So we can expect some lateral thinking and a bit of rather expensive blue sky. We have already enjoyed one ingenious government anti-smoking campaign that featured perfume samples which, when you peeled them back, smelled of stale cigarettes. (However, this backfired somewhat on my friend Ellen, who took a deep sniff and said "Mmm! Smells like home!").

We also know that New Labour is keen on employing "below the line" methods, as they are known in advertising. These are personalised ways of reaching people, such as letter targeting. They particularly like sending text messages to young voters. They may thus decide to send out circular texts on Friday nights saying: "HAVEN'T U HAD ENUFF?" Or perhaps "IF U R IN THE GUTTER U R GOING BACK NOT 4WARD".

However, these may be too subtle. The Independent on Sunday revealed yesterday that in the run-up to the election this year, Millbank sent out texts bearing the sophisticated message "Don't give a XXXX for last orders? Vote Labour". So perhaps we can expect something more along the lines of: "XXXX yr last orders. Try rehab."

The sad truth is that all their effort will be like trying to swim upstream. A negative campaign is always nebulous and its results hard to quantify. In our society, it is much easier to convince someone to buy something than not to buy something. Abstinence would sell better if it had a price and if celebrities could model it.

All young people, myself included, will respond a little to anti-advertising that plays to their better nature, that encourages them to practise restraint and moderation and to go home sober and read Heidi in bed. But we would respond a lot more to anti-advertising that plays to our fears, our petty anxieties and insecurities - to campaigns that tell us that if we carry on boozing we risk incontinence, or that we'll die young, leaving an unattractive corpse. Sometimes, in order to get someone to do a good thing, you have to speak to the bad in them.

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