The government is already being accused of 'bottling it' on a minimum price for alcohol. Instead of banning the sale of bargain booze, it is said that shops and bars will be prevented from selling drinks for less than the tax they pay on them.
Public health campaigners have been quick to condemn what they see as toothless legislation – and undoubtedly wielding the stick of regulation has proven a successful vector of behaviour change in other areas.But we have also seen that the drivers of excessive drinking can be complex, hinting at range of other social causes. The insights from two social marketing projects aimed at tackling binge drinking among students and young people should cause policymakers to take note.
North Tyneside PCT found that a lack of recreational facilities and activities and feelings of boredom conspired with social pressure and the ease of purchasing alcohol to drive under-21s towards drinking. The PCT addressed this through involving young people in the design of out-of-school activities on the one hand, and working with off-licences and the police to tackle underage and 'proxy' sales. In Liverpool, the PCT ran a 'Chill Out Cabin' in the city centre to provide young people with an opportunity to socialise without alcohol.
Both projects give young people opportunities for alternative, positive behaviours. They acknowledge that there are benefits of the problem behaviour, and replace them with alternatives that the young people value. The social determinants of behaviours –acknowledged, it seems, in the government's public health white paper aim 'to build people's self-esteem, confidence and resilience' – were addressed. If we are to see less of the 'stick', then we surely need support and encouragement for the sort of innovation and understanding demonstrated by these PCTs.
Other social marketing and behaviour change blogs that we read: