The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Alcohol, cigarettes and our youths - Alternatives must be found

Tuesday, 17 November 2020, 09:22 Last update: about 17 days ago

A recent survey made some shocking revelations regarding alcohol consumption for children aged 13 and under.

The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) found that, in Malta, 34% of students have consumed alcohol at the age of 13 or younger and 6% also got drunk at the age of 13 or younger.

Teenagers drinking alcohol is a known issue, and one could easily have spotted the problem by heading to Paceville on a Saturday night, pre-Covid-19. However the statistic regarding children aged 13 or younger drinking alcohol is concerning.

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The survey also found that 82% of students between the age of 15 and 16 years old have consumed alcohol.

When it comes to alcohol, the results from other European countries are lower when compared to the numbers in Malta; meaning that Mata has a higher level of alcohol consumption.

The fact remains that, while teenage alcohol consumption in Malta has long been an issue and is not something new, perhaps it is time for there to be stricter enforcement. Indeed 44% of students said they purchased alcohol from bars and clubs, despite this being illegal if under the age of 17.

The report also found that 7.4% of students said that they smoked a cigarette at the age of 13 or younger. Nicotine is extremely addictive, and cigarettes are extremely harmful, and while the Maltese statistic in this regard is below the European average, it is still worrying.

Drug use was also highlighted, 33% of students find it ‘very easy or fairly easy’ to obtain cannabis, the report found. The fact that it is easily found means that drug dealers are easily accessible.

The report paints a more realistic picture of Maltese youth culture, and with such knowledge, the first steps can be taken.

The authorities need to crack down on bars and clubs that sell alcohol to teenagers not of legal drinking age. Perhaps a stronger police presence in Paceville and stricter penalties on such establishments who breach such rules could be the first step.

Shops should also ID younger looking people more frequently when they purchase cigarettes.

At the end of the day however, parents will also need to be more vigilant. The country must find a way to get our youths out of the party culture and find alternative ways for them to have fun, rather than clubbing or going out drinking.

The Covid-19 pandemic would have obviously curbed such bad habits, after all parents would be more reluctant to let their children go out in groups at night due to the pandemic, and it would be harder for teenagers to smoke without their parents finding out if they are spending more time at home.

The question is, will they return to drinking and smoking once the pandemic passes? While the likely answer is yes, society needs to find better outlets through which our youths can have fun without the use of dangerous substances.

Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon said that it is important to look at the study in more detail and to understand what brought these youths to begin an addiction. “Did this behaviour begin at home? Is it with friends?” We must identify the issues that result in such behaviour and work on solving them.

 

 

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