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Pernod Ricard tells youth to say 'No' to alcohol

As seen in the Al Capone era, even strict drinking rules and laws could not stop people from drinking. To a global alcohol company like Pernod Ricard, it is better to equip drinkers with a sense of responsibility, for its own sake and the greater good of society.

In its second year, "Responsib'All Day" 2012 was held in July. About 18,000 Pernod Ricard employees worldwide stopped their activities for 24 hours to educate young adults on responsible consumption. Employees from five continents, in major cities from Sydney to Shanghai, New Delhi, Tokyo, Sofia, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, were mobilised in a 24-hour day of action. A range of exhibitions, forums with local authorities and non-profit organisations, as well as educational programmes are organised on this day in more than 70 countries, including Thailand.

According to Chavalit Vongsuwanlert, corporate affairs director of Pernod Ricard Thailand, last year the company's campaign focused on "Don't Drink and Drive", which has now become a permanent topic in its agenda. This year, it joined hands with the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation for training on "Road Safety" and "Alcohol I Know for Young People", besides a panel discussion in which policemen, colleges, parents and youth representatives and representatives from three universities took part.

Youth is the main target. Based on a survey in 2011 by the Office of National Statistics people aged 15-24 years accounted for 2.4 million of those who drink alcohol. On average, they start drinking from age 17. Most of the accidents causing injuries and death are by the 17-19 age group.

"All the speakers [at the panel discussion] had a consensus that the only effective way to prevent harmful drinking among young people is education, not restriction," Chavalit said. "There is less and less tolerance about misuse of alcohol by youth. It is important that we educate young people about the dangers of alcohol so that they are aware of the risks and dangers of alcohol and underage drinking. The three areas of focus are: delaying the age of the first drink, decreasing the amount of alcohol consumption of young adults, and decreasing the frequency of drunkenness."

Educational programmes of the global alcohol company in different countries in Europe showed that after 10 years, drinking among the youth reduced by 12 per cent. In France, about 2,500 students are educated on the dangers of alcohol starting from the age of 10 until 14. The focus is on youth as their brain and body are still growing and developing. Their alcohol tolerance is not as high and as good as adults. Studies conducted overseas show that people who start drinking at 16 are five times more likely to run into trouble than those who start drinking at 25. Hence, children who drink alcohol are at a higher risk. This group should say 'No' to alcohol, Chavalit said.

To reduce the risks and dangers of harmful drinking among young people, law enforcement is not enough. This requires cooperation from the public sector, schools, colleges, teachers, parents, friends, older students, NGOs or social workers. Through cooperation with the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, the "Youth Road Safely and Alcohol I Know" programme in Thailand aims to educate secondary school students on traffic discipline and the dangers of underage drinking.

"We teach them the health risks of drinking if they start at a young age. With good cooperation from local authorities, we expect to train 1,000 students in the first year. The first programme was recently launched in Khon Kaen and generated good results."

Meetings with liquor shops, numbering over 2,000, are organised this year, where they are informed of the company's policy towards drinking among the youth. They were asked for their cooperation not to sell alcohol to people under 20 years of age for long-term benefits from this campaign.

"Many people ask me if the campaign will affect the company's sales. I firmly believe that actions taken to ensure that young people in Thai society are made aware of the health risks and the dangers of harmful and irresponsible drinking are far more important than focusing on sales."

Chavalit noted that though Pernod Ricard is an alcohol company, it adheres to transparent business practices. In particular, it will not carry out any sales and marketing activities aimed at children and youth with the understanding that alcohol is not unlike consumer goods in general. They have both benefits and drawbacks. If too much is consumed, it could have negative effects. The same goes for food such as desserts where if one consumes too much of it, it could lead to diabetes. If you eat too much fatty foods, this could also lead to heart disease or cardiovascular problems.

Thailand has resorted to using grotesque images from accident scenes to promote anti-drinking campaigns, but the images may not work for children. Education would work better to make them understand the dangers. They need to know that within one minute of drinking alcohol, the alcohol will get to the brain and it takes about an hour for the liver to disperse the alcohol in the body. If you drink too much alcohol, it will go into the blood stream, and you may not be able to think clearly and may do something inappropriate or careless which can lead to an accident. When it comes to alcohol, there is no distinction between "hard" or "soft". As such, it is a misperception that drinking cocktails doesn't make one drunk.

"We firmly believe that it is our duty and responsibility to get across the message on the dangers of irresponsible drinking. While there are healthy guidelines on alcohol drinking for adults, there are no guidelines at all for safe alcohol consumption for young people. As a responsible entrepreneur, we want to see this partnership to exist on a continuing basis as our society changes and develops in line with the behaviour of people. It is also important to learn and adapt to the digital age, especially if you are a Gen Y.

"Our key message with year's campaign is for young people to say 'No to consuming alcohol' and for young adults who wish to drink to always consider moderate consumption."


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