In recent years it has become increasingly evident that the Czech Republic has a serious problem with underage drinking. According to an OECD report the country now has the worst record in Europe with over 40 percent of 15-year-olds admitting that they drink on a regular basis.
In the past decade the country has seen an alarming rise in the number of teenagers who drink. The number of minors who have tried alcohol jumped from 70 to 94 percent in the past ten years and a quarter of 15-year-olds admit they drink on a regular basis. Studies show that as regards drinking there is practically no difference in gender. Forty-three percent of boys aged 15 said they had been heavily drunk on a number of occasions, and 41 percent of girls admitted having been heavily intoxicated at least once. The head of the government’s National Anti-Drug Agency Jindrich Voboril says tolerance to drinking in Czech society is a big part of the problem.
“I think it is the attitude of the whole society. When I speak to people they tell me - young people have always been drinking and they will always drink. And I keep saying No, young people in the Czech Republic drink much more and take much greater risks (with alcohol consumption) than they ever did before. And the studies show that since 1995 the problem has got 100 percent worse. Young people have started drinking spirits at an earlier age. It used to be at around 16 –now they start at thirteen, fourteen years of age, and it is not just their first experience with intoxication, but repeated intoxication.”
Despite the fact that this negative trend was reflected in numerous statistics and international organizations repeatedly rang alarm bells the Czech authorities by-and-large ignored the problem. There was no budget for a campaign which would target underage drinking and, according to Jindrich Voboril, 90 percent of salespeople, be it in shops or restaurants, did not have a problem with selling alcohol to minors. He says the lack of government policy and money led to the problem rapidly deteriorating.
“There has been a lack of government policy which would address the issue. It was only last year that I pushed the government to change this and so we have incorporated this issue into the National Drug Strategy and at this time we are preparing an action plan to change this negative trend.”
The government’s action-plan is still in-the-making but according to the National Anti-Drug Agency it will take a leaf out of Germany’s book which successfully invested in a campaign to fight teenage drinking ten years ago. A proposed amendment to the Czech law should tighten punishment for selling alcohol to minors, significantly raise fines for the offense and should give the authorities the right to close down for several days pubs which repeatedly break the law. The Ministry of Education has been asked to come up with a campaign which would successfully address minors – on social networks and elsewhere – highlighting the adverse effects of underage drinking and spreading the message that the risk of developing an addiction is significantly higher in underage drinkers. And last but not least, the agency is hoping that greater publicity in the media and greater awareness of the problem will change the destructive attitude of Czech society which has for so long accepted underage drinking as a normal and relatively harmless part of growing-up.
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