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Can France fight binge drinking with new laws?

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Can France fight binge drinking with new laws?
Is France right to crackdown on binge drinking with prison sentences and fines? Photo: Shutterstock
10:25 CEST+02:00
France announced plans to combat binge drinking among young people this week but are prison sentences and hefty fines for inciting people to “drink until drunk” the right way to go? The Local gauged the opinion among Paris's youth.

In her new bill presented this week, the French Health minister wants to tackle the binge drinking phenomenon among young people in France.

If it is passed, people who encourage minors to drink excessively could face a year behind bars and a €15,000 fine. And anyone who incites others to “drink until drunk” could face up to six months in prison as well as a fine into the thousands.

The measures may seem extreme, at least to Anglos who have grown up with the binge-drinking culture, but in France it suggests how concerned authorities are about the increasing drunkenness among youths and students.

But does France really have a problem with binge drinking and are prison sentences the right way to go?

“It’s important to realise that it’s a severe issue”, Stéphanie Pierron, 36, told The Local. “Of course there need to be sanctions. Though it might be better to raise awareness by setting up group meetings or make commercials. But then again that all already exists.”

Michel, aged 30, echoes her thoughts. “I think it’s good to try and get this behaviour under control,” he said. “I think the law could be a success if it’s put into effect.”

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France has seen numerous incidents in recent years where young people have lost their lives after drinking themselves to oblivion. The tragic stories regularly make the headlines and thrust the issue of what to do about binge drinking back on the agenda.

In 2005, a student in Nanterre died from an alcohol-induced coma after drinking 15 shots in a mere half an hour. Last year, three people fell into a canal in Paris and drowned in separate incidents. According to reports they were all drunk.

Furthermore 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".

Many young French people The Local spoke to believe that the issue needs to be attacked at its roots and can’t be fixed with punitive measures.

“I think if people binge drink they have a problem,” said 23-year-old Alice, who doesn’t drink at all. “It might be psychological, I don’t know. In any case, we need to understand why they’re doing that in order to be able to help them.”

Nobody The Local spoke to was fully convinced that the bill would eradicate the phenomenon of binge drinking, and people are unsure how the measures would be applied if the bill were to pass.

So far the health minister Marisol Touraine has not specified the parametres of the law nor was it immediately clear how it would be enforced.

Authorities may also have a problem defining what exactly counts as binge drinking.

The World Health Organisation defines it as drinking six or more standard drinks during one drinking session, where as Grégoire Varchon, a 23-year-old video animator, perhaps had a better definition. “It’s drinking until you lose control,” he said.

The debate about the best policy to tackle binge drinking has also divided experts and medical professionals in France.

Senator André Reichardt, who wrote a report on binge drinking in 2012 told BFM TV: “It is widely desirable to develop preventive measures rather than strengthen existing legislation on alcohol. We already have laws prohibiting the of sale of alcohol to minors as well as a ban on serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated people.”

For Reichardt "it is necessary to empower people and strengthen preventive measures before criminalising people.”

Corinne Bouchoux, who co-authored Reichardt's report went even further: “It’s utterly pointless,” she said. “Of course [binge drinking] is a real problem, but the government’s answer is inappropriate.”
 
Bouchoux even questions France's higher education system. “Often the victims of this phenomenon are young people who spent two years stuck in their room studying for a ‘classe préparatoire’".
 
But Raphaël Bévenot, who is in charge of preventative action at the National Bureau for students in engineering said “The law goes in the right direction, but it seems difficult to enforce.”
 
by Simone Flückiger
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