Underage Drinking: Guinness, Others Lead War Against Menace



“I was a raging alcoholic at the age of 15 and I wish my parents had made me pay a stiff price for my alcoholism at that early age. Maybe then I would not have spent the next 30 years making a mess of my life and many others. Fortunately, I have managed to survive my alcoholism but many do not.”

The above confession by one Duane, as published in the New York Times of June 25, 2015, signposts the growing danger of alcohol consumption among underage persons globally. Its mounting menace has triggered a global concern and subsequent adoption of several measures to tackle the challenge. A good example in Nigeria is the ‘Guinness’ Age Verification Programme’, an initiative targeted at stopping the sale of alcohol to minors or underage persons at designated partner superstores across the country.

The rise in underage drinking has been caused in part by the easy access to alcohol at bars and liquor stores, particularly in undeveloped countries where regulation on age limits are non-existent or largely unenforced. In many neighbourhood stores in Lagos, store attendants and adults who should know better sell alcoholic drinks to under-aged youths. Added to this is the illegal production and consumption of locally made alcoholic beverages that escape the attention of relevant authorities.

Drinking has also become more acceptable than ever. Under the guise of social drinking and merriment, under-aged teenagers have access to alcoholic beverages that they would otherwise not have access to. This is sometimes as a result of peer pressure from friends and family members who invite the underage to partake in such merriments.

Research shows that young people, under 18, are experimenting with alcohol at earlier ages than ever before. A national survey in the United States found that slightly more than half of young adults in the U.S. aged 12 to 20 have consumed alcohol at least once.

In Nigeria, a study of the prevalence and patterns of alcohol use among students in Benue State indicated that a substantial proportion of students between 14 and 17 years old have consumed alcohol at one time or the other.

Human experience and scholarly studies have illustrated that young persons between the ages of 10 and 14 are more vulnerable to addiction to alcohol and other drug-related abuses because the pleasure area of the brain matures well ahead of the part responsible for impulse control and executive decision-making. In other words, these kids’ capacity for pleasure reaches adult proportions well before their capacity for sound decision-making. They are also vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage, which could contribute to poor performance at school or work and other growing unhealthy vices such as rape, street fight and domestic violence, among others.
It is clear that underage drinking is a scourge in the society, a threat to the lives of youths upon whom the future of the country depends. As such, stakeholders must take concerted action before the blight spirals out of control and inflicts more harm on the society. Parents, schools, corporate organisations, religious and regulatory bodies all have a role in identifying early signs of engagement in underage drinking and implementing countermeasures to checkmate it.

The Guinness Nigeria Age Verification Programme, which was launched in June 2015, represents a laudable effort in this direction. A partnership between the brewing giant and four leading supermarket chains in Lagos namely Addide Stores, JustRite Superstores, SPAR Artee Group and Grocery Bazaar Limited, seeks to institute a culture of intolerance to alcohol consumption by persons under the legal purchase/legal drinking age of 18. Through the programme, which will be expanded to other parts of the country, persons below 18 years will not be served and allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages in the stores. If the age of the youngster is in doubt, identification will be required before patronage.

Corporate Relations Director, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Mr Sesan Sobowale, who described underage drinking as a global issue that requires concerted efforts to tackle, stated that this initiative serves as a control mechanism on the sale of alcohol to minors or underage persons, that is, persons under 18 years of age. Furthermore, he stated that the programme gives fillip to one of Guinness Nigeria’s creed, which states that alcohol is strictly for adults, as such children and alcohol do not mix.

Guinness Nigeria’s age verification initiative may have come as a surprise to consumers and industry watchers, as one would have expected that a company whose innovative Ready-to-Drink product, Orijin, has gained wide acceptance in the youth market segment would not be campaigning against underage drinking and the potential to hurt sales. However, on the contrary, the brewer has led other alcoholic producers to openly steer a campaign that borders on the safety and health of youths. Responsible drinking is a crusade the company has championed for many years in the country.

The initiative comes against the backdrop of the adoption of the new Commitments to reduce harmful drinking by 13 leading global producers of wine, beer and spirits, including Diageo, the parent company of Guinness Nigeria. The Commitments, launched in October 2012, was designed to actualise the Global Alcohol Strategy outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in May 2010. The strategy aims at supporting member-states to implement targeted steps to reduce harmful use of alcohol. One of the Commitments is reducing underage drinking.

Diageo’s Chief Executive Officer, Ivan Menezes, had described the impact of the implementation of the Commitments as “good for our business, good for our communities and good for our consumers and it is quite simply the right thing to do.”

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