France reveals anti-binge drinking crackdown

France reveals anti-binge drinking crackdown
France plans to make binge drinking illegal. Photo: I woke up Today/Flickr
UPDATED: France unveiled details of its plan to stamp out binge drinking and drunkenness among young people on Wednesday with a proposal to make inciting minors to booze excessively an offence punishable by up to a year in prison and a €15, 000 fine.

France has long been concerned by the growth in binge drinking culture and its health minister responded on Wednesday with a draft bill aimed at helping to stamp out the phenomenon.

"We have to put a stop to drunkenness that does such damage to young people," said Marisol Touraine. 

"Directly provoking a minor to excessive consumption of alcohol will be punished by a year imprisonment and a fine of €15,000," the text of her law said.

The draft legislation aimed also to prevent "inciting people to drink on the Internet", in an apparent reference to the global craze "Neknomination", a game which left several people dead after accepting challenged to down drinks.

Anyone who incites someone else to "drink until drunk" will be liable to six months in prison and a fine of €7,500.

The parametres of the law were not specified nor was it immediately clear how it would be enforced. If approved by the cabinet, the bill would go to the
French parliament for debate and a vote.

Touraine also said she wanted to take aim at "games or objects that glorify the excessive consumption of alcohol", citing t-shirts or mobile phone covers with amusing scenes of drunkenness.

The proposed crackdown on excessive boozing is part of a sweeping health reform bill proposed by Touraine that also targets a major crackdown on smoking.

Though the French have long been known for their moderate – but steady – consumption of alcohol, the Anglo culture of binge drinking – where large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time – is now common among young people.

In the past French cities, including Lyon, which is known for its thriving student life – have introduced restrictions on the sale of alcohol after certain hours in a bid to curb binge drinking. Other cities, such as La Rochelle banned drinking in public areas. Recently in the Brittany town of Vannes, local authorities became so fed up with students getting drunk that they banned all alcohol in certain areas of the town.

The phenomenon has also been blamed for numerous deaths of young people. Last summer three people drowned in a Paris canal, reportedly as the result of getting drunk and falling in.  

France has of course banned "binge drinking" before, but only in the sense of the word. Last year The Local reported how the French language police at the ministry of culture officially introduced the term "beuverie-express" (fast-drinking) to replace the Anglo version.

Underage drinking in general has become a growing concern for French authorities. 

A recent report by the country's National Institute for Prevention and Education in Health warned that "the frequency of drunkenness among adolescents and young adults seems to be on the rise".

The 2013 report found that fully 59 percent of 11 to 12-year-olds in France have consumed alcohol.

Furthermore, one in six 11 to 14-year-olds had been drunk at least once, a figure that rises to 60 percent for 15 to 17-year-olds.

“Alcohol is the psychoactive substance that teens experiment with the earliest,” the study’s authors were quoted as saying by TF1 television.

There appears to be a particularly sharp rise in drinking between the ages of 13 and 16.

At the start of that period, 39 percent of pupils claim they consumed at least one unit of alcohol in the previous month. By age 16, it doubles to 79 percent.

The report was the latest in a string of recent scientific studies suggesting that France has a real and growing drinking problem among its young people.

In March 2013 The Local reported a staggering 80 percent rise in short-stay hospital visits in the last year, mainly for alcohol-related accidents and falls, and especially among young men and women.

“We’re seeing more and more young people in the emergency room, seriously drunk, who stay for a day or two to sober up,” said Dr. Damien Labarrière, a gastroenterologist in the city of Orléans, south of Paris.

Regarding the general population, a study just two weeks earlier made the worrying discovery that alcohol is responsible for around 49,000 deaths in France each year – or 134 each day.

Catherine Hill, one of the authors of the report by the European Journal of Public Health, summed up the findings simply by saying: "The French drink too much".

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