Without wishing to enter into a tit-for-tat argument with Sina Bugeja as chief executive officer of The Foundation for Social Welfare Services, after her letter of July 3, I feel that, given her questioning of our “sources” for the quotes I made in my Talking Point of June 7, it is only fair I give her the facts.

The European School Project on Alcohol and Drugs (Espad) surveys and the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children 2006 and 2010 Studies (HBSC) show figures like:

• Exactly 80 per cent of young people answer to not being drunk in the last 30 days (same unchanged trend since 1999). If that is not a majority of young people who don’t regularly abuse alcohol, what is?

• Abstinence from alcohol among young people in the last 30 days increased from 21 per cent in 2003 to 31 per cent in 2011. A very positive trend, I am sure you will agree.

• North European countries with higher alcohol prices still have the highest binge drinking percentage (Denmark 55 per cent, Finland 40 per cent, Scotland 42 per cent, compared to Malta 18 per cent of 15-year- olds drunk at least twice in the last month). So will raising prices have any real effect on youth consumption or just drive them to cheaper alcohol supply solutions, maybe even making it a bit more exciting for them to obtain and consume?

• From before the point of purchase legislation in 2007 to after in 2011, 40 per cent of students still buy alcohol from stores and 23 per cent from bars. So it is a matter of enforcement, since no effect has been registered according to the survey.

With higher minimum pricing, the main sufferers will be adult moderate drinkers who do not deserve to be charged more for a legal product just because enforcement measures are not in place for selling to underage drinkers.

And the biggest fact of all is that it seems the commission that put together the draft national alcohol policy have incorrectly put in a misguiding fact, that, to quote the policy in page 12, “the HBSC 2006 results show that among 15-year-olds, 39 per cent of girls and 51 per cent of boys binge drink” when the truth is that those figures refer to “those who drink alcohol at least once a week”. Hardly binge drinking on a national scale!

In fact, when it comes to “15-year-olds who have been drunk at least twice” Malta ranks almost last among 40 countries! (source http://alcoholeducationtrust.org/resources/facts/HBSC.pdf ).

It is these facts that make us speak out to avoid over-alarmist sentiments to drive a country that has below average per capita consumption of alcohol into extreme legislation that may apply elsewhere and actually do more harm than good in the long term.

But, to make The Sense Group’s position clear, whatever the trends say, we remain committed to continue educating the public about responsible drinking as we have done in the past through initiatives like www.drinkawaremalta.com, which we urge the public, most particularly parents, to view with their children to get the facts about alcohol.

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