Campaigns bear more than a passing resemblance to anti-tobacco tactics
“WHY do we have to live here, daddy?”
It’s 2009 and the owner of a convenience store in a housing estate is applying to “convert” his off-sale licence to the new system. He’s run into opposition from an objector, who paints a horrendous picture of the shop’s impact on quality of life in the community.
The central allegation is that the shop staff are actively engaged in underage alcohol sales, particularly of cheap, high-strength products.
The objector tells the licensing board that when he brought his nine year old daughter home from school one day, they discovered the sickening effect of these sales on the doorstep.
When I read about a campaign to ensure that children have an “alcohol-free childhood”, the 2009 application came straight back to mind.
But the campaign doesn’t simply envisage a society in which children’s wellbeing is insulated from the ill-effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Perhaps we’ll yet see a proposal to establish separate ‘drinking rooms’ in premises.
Instead, it’s intended to wipe out – or at least severely curtail – alcohol advertising and marketing.
The campaign’s protagonists are members of the Children’s Parliament (aged nine to 11), whose views were sought on the impact of alcohol on their lives.
The overall message is that the children wanted a childhood “free from the constant presence of alcohol and alcohol-related harm; a world where children’s human rights are understood and respected by all; and where children and adults are healthy, happy, safe and loved”.
The means by which this objective might be achieved are starting to look familiar.
One participant in the project said that if “kids see other people drinking” they’ll want to start drinking at any early age “when they are not allowed to”. Obvious, isn’t it?
The alcohol airbrushing wouldn’t stop in public places.
You may recall a report earlier this year suggesting that children were liable to become “upset” when they saw their parents drinking, even at moderate levels.
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, an “alcohol-free childhood” requires an end to alcohol consumption in a domestic environment.
According to the campaign literature, one child described this state of affairs as one in which “children wouldn’t have to watch their parents drink”.
Of course, no anti-alcohol offensive is complete without a nod towards the tactics deployed by those engaged in the war on tobacco. So, “passive drinking” aside, in an alcohol-free childhood, children “wouldn’t think it’s cool to drink”.
And for good measure, we can contribute to environmental goals because, “there would be less litter in the sea and leftover bottles and glass on the beach”.
Fundamentally, this isn’t about children having an alcohol-free childhood.
It’s about an alcohol-free world that campaigners believe can be achieved by banning television alcohol advertising between 6am and 11pm; restricting cinema advertising to 18-certificate film screenings; ending billboard advertising; and curbing social media marketing.
And, of course, making alcohol invisible would require tobacco-style cabinets in shops and supermarkets.
If we want to stop children seeing adults drinking, the first logical step would be to ban anyone under 16 from pubs and restaurants.
In fact, perhaps we’ll yet see a proposal to establish separate ‘drinking rooms’ in licensed premises so as to separate alcohol-drinking pariahs from those having alcohol-free drinks.
It’s impossible not to sympathise with the little girl whose upbringing was being blighted by the rogue shop owner ten years ago.
We should be concerned for the welfare of children exposed to the behaviour of parents whose excessive alcohol consumption has taken over their lives. We can and we should protect children from harm as one of the central pillars of the licensing system.
But, in my view, yet again we find funding and resources being misplaced – and that would be better expended on the support of children for whom domestic alcohol-related problems extend well beyond the sight of a bottle of wine in the fridge.
Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.
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