The federal government’s $53 million program to combat binge drinking has been hailed by many as a significant step towards making a real difference. The cornerstone is the $20 million which will be spent on an advertising “scare” campaign, warning teenagers in particular about the health and social risks of excessive drinking. Other features include just over $19 million earmarked for intervention and diversion programs, as well as a plan to withhold funds from sporting clubs which fail to tackle the problem among their young members. Alcohol advertising and sponsorship deals have also been identified as areas for review in the future.
While shock advertising campaigns have been very successful in dealing with smoking, drink driving and the spread of H.I.V., the youth drinking culture might be more difficult to tackle. For such a campaign to succeed it is not enough to simply depict the negative health impacts. The most successful campaigns of this nature are the ones which depict certain behaviours as being uncool. The drink driving campaign’s most signifcant message was the phrase “bloody idiot” which has become part of everyday language. Another example is the “little pinky” anti-speeding campaign which belittles men who break the speed limit. It’s this characterization of socially unacceptable behaviour which has the most impact on changing community attitudes.
We will know that we have made progress on the binge drinking issue when we start to see teenagers themselves passing on the message to their peers.