There can’t be many teenagers out there unaware that if a boy and a girl have unprotected sex, there is a chance of a girl getting pregnant, and/or both getting a sexually transmitted disease.
Just as there can’t be too many people unaware that if you drink a lot, there is a chance of getting drunk, and if you get drunk a lot, there is a danger you become a problem to yourself and to others.
Those two rather obvious thought came into my mind when I heard someone commenting on Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson’s recent comments on Britain’s booze culture. ‘We need a major public education campaign,’ the commenter said.
But to do what?
Can we really say the public are uneducated about drink? Were any one of the people I saw around EC1 last night, on my way home mid-evening from a Christmas party – one guy throwing up, one group of young women staggering towards a club, a group of young men fighting – be in any doubt this morning that drink may have been a significant causal factor? I doubt it.
I have been trying to think back to the days of my own heavy drinking, which eventually helped contribute to a fullscale breakdown, and whether we were as aware then as we are now. So far as I can recall, the answer is we were generally aware, but perhaps less specifically aware. So there has been a fair bit of public education. It may have had some effect, on some individuals. But I think we’d be hard pressed to disagree with the notion that Britain still has a booze culture.
I can remember at the time of the liberalising of the licensing laws making the point on behalf of government that this was partly about trying to make Britain’s attitudes to alcohol more like those of the French.
But whilst there may be more coffee bars, bistros and the like, few now make the claim that this change has worked.
Back in my boozing days, there was a lot of public education going on about smoking. It didn’t stop me chainsmoking. Well, at least not until the negative effects of smoking became all too apparent, not least on my health, and I made a determined effort to stop, eventually doing so with the help of a hypnotist.
I knew when I was still smoking that it was bad for me. Ultimately the judgement to stop came from within. But who knows the extent to which the ‘public education campaigns’ had an effect too. So maybe the person who commented on Donaldson was right.
But ultimately the progess made on smoking has been the result of government action, much of it controversial and unpopular at the time, about labelling, pricing and finally banning.
I’m not saying for sure that we should be going down the same route for alcohol. But we’re at least going to have to think about some pretty significant change, in the face of considerable public and industry opposition, if we are serious about the kind of cultural shift this issue seems to need.