Teaching the tricks of the liquor trade

A guest blog from Paul Myles

Alcohol is a major public health problem and one that is growing in young people mostly from the increase in binge drinking. There are several reasons for the increase in drinking in this age group particularly the availability of low priced strong ciders lagers and breezers but advertising plays a significant role as well.

The recent BMA publication ‘Under the Influence’ [British Medical Association 2009] clearly shows that the drinks industry cynically targets very young people, revealing the techniques that they employ, of which many parents are unaware.  These include targeted email campaigns with embedded film clips advertising alcohol, Facebook links and mobile phone text messaging.

How can we combat this sophisticated and cynical approach? One approach is to tell young people directly of the dangers of alcohol. However it seems that direct scare tactics about the outcome of alcohol use or any other substance that can be misused has been ineffective and may even be counterproductive (Drugscope 2010) (Coggans et al 1991).

Another way is to develop a teaching module for school students that reveals the subtle ways in which positive messages about alcohol are communicated. This how now been done and piloted in East Sussex with great success.

The teaching module shows the students how the drinks industry makes its own voluntary codes and them blatantly ignores them. It shows how the Portman Group [that has responsibility for alcohol education] whilst appearing to be concerned about alcohol harm is actually dominated by the drinks industry. Also it is revealed that the public health message in the UKis left to the drinks industry. The myths surrounding alcohol are discussed and then the students are asked to make up their own mind about the issues. Profit motives of the drinks industry, the tax income and political agendas are exposed and compared with the cost to society, mortality and shortening of life caused by alcohol use.

The rationale for the module is to enable students to critically evaluate the way that young people are targeted to buy alcohol. The lessons examine the mechanics behind the commercial enterprise of alcohol sales. The students analyse the management/mismanagement of the substance misuse issue.

This approach does what the advertisers do, get this message out to as many people as possible, to show the public how they are being hoodwinked by the drinks industry. It is hoped that the British public will realise that they are being duped and react accordingly by contacting their MP and local authorities.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) is now working to see how this might roll out the programme to many more schools.


This comprehensive package includes a 2 lesson module for students, a teacher training session and a presentation to parents and interested members of the community developed by Paul Myles from his MSc research at Sussex University. The module contains multi media and is designed to address a wide spectrum of learning abilities. The lesson plans were developed by researcher Paul Myles supported by East Sussex County Council.

British Medical Association 2009. Under The Influence:The damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people. BMA Science and Education Department and the Board of Science. BMA Marketing & Publications London. www.bma.org.uk

Coggans N, Shewan D, Henderson M and Davies JB ‘National Evaluation of Drug Education in Scotland’, ISDD 1991.

Paul Myles BSc Psychol (Hons) MSc Substance Misuse MBPsS

Paul is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and a Graduate member of the British Psychological Society. Contact: 01273 477723 pmyles@btclick.com 13 Hill Rd Lewes Sx BN7 1DB