Teaching the tricks of the liquor trade

January 19, 2011

A guest blog from Paul Myles

Alcohol is a major public health problem and one that is growing in young people mostly from the increase in binge drinking. There are several reasons for the increase in drinking in this age group particularly the availability of low priced strong ciders lagers and breezers but advertising plays a significant role as well.

The recent BMA publication ‘Under the Influence’ [British Medical Association 2009] clearly shows that the drinks industry cynically targets very young people, revealing the techniques that they employ, of which many parents are unaware.  These include targeted email campaigns with embedded film clips advertising alcohol, Facebook links and mobile phone text messaging.

How can we combat this sophisticated and cynical approach? One approach is to tell young people directly of the dangers of alcohol. However it seems that direct scare tactics about the outcome of alcohol use or any other substance that can be misused has been ineffective and may even be counterproductive (Drugscope 2010) (Coggans et al 1991).

Another way is to develop a teaching module for school students that reveals the subtle ways in which positive messages about alcohol are communicated. This how now been done and piloted in East Sussex with great success.

The teaching module shows the students how the drinks industry makes its own voluntary codes and them blatantly ignores them. It shows how the Portman Group [that has responsibility for alcohol education] whilst appearing to be concerned about alcohol harm is actually dominated by the drinks industry. Also it is revealed that the public health message in the UK  is left to the drinks industry. The myths surrounding alcohol are discussed and then the students are asked to make up their own mind about the issues. Profit motives of the drinks industry, the tax income and political agendas are exposed and compared with the cost to society, mortality and shortening of life caused by alcohol use.

The rationale for the module is to enable students to critically evaluate the way that young people are targeted to buy alcohol. The lessons examine the mechanics behind the commercial enterprise of alcohol sales. The students analyse the management /mismanagement of the substance misuse issue.

This approach does what the advertisers do, get this message out to as many people as possible, to show the public how they are being hoodwinked by the drinks industry. It is hoped that the British public will realise that they are being duped and react accordingly by contacting their MP and local authorities.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) is now working to see how this might roll out the programme to many more schools


This comprehensive package includes a 2 lesson module for students, a teacher training session and a presentation to parents and interested members of the community developed by Paul Myles from his MSc research at Sussex University. The module contains multi media and is designed to address a wide spectrum of learning abilities. The lesson plans were developed by researcher Paul Myles supported by East Sussex County Council.

British Medical Association 2009. Under The Influence:The damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people. BMA Science and Education Department and the Board of Science. BMA Marketing & Publications London. www.bma.org.uk

Coggans N, Shewan D, Henderson M and Davies JB ‘National Evaluation of Drug Education in Scotland’, ISDD 1991.

Paul Myles BSc Psychol (Hons) MSc Substance Misuse MBPsS

Paul is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and a Graduate member of the British Psychological Society contact 01273 477723 pmyles@btclick.com 13 Hill Rd Lewes Sx BN7 1DB


25 Responses to “Teaching the tricks of the liquor trade”

  1. Thank you Paul Myles, I have to say this makes for some very interesting reading to say the least. I shall try and read up on the points you’ve raised as they are very relevant – and quite shocking to a degree.

    This blog iterates the problem we have with alcohol in society, and when we receive the usual “alcohol is ‘legal’ and look at the trouble it causes” well, is it a wonder why? I’m sure we all cynically expect (accept even) that the alcohol industry targets the youth market, but to have a clearer understanding of this subject is very much appreciated.

    • Paul Myles Says:

      Thank you for your comment

      I am hoping that when people reflect on the issue, over time more objections will be made.


  2. adrienne campbell Says:

    I concur with Paul Myles. Binge drinking has reached terrifying proportions in this and other countries, and it has a lot to do with legislation. I went to university in Boston, USA, where it was illegal to buy drink under 21. Sure there was a little drinking but nothing like here. Any laws to curb it would be welcome.

  3. Henz Says:

    The lessons sound like a perfect example of how media studies and public health tie together. Teaching people to “critically evaluate the way that [they] are targeted to buy alcohol” is a great way to tackle two problems;
    – alcohol misuse
    – “hoodwinking” by subtle advertising campaigns

  4. Paul Myles Says:

    I hope that this campaign will gain traction as more people realise that there is no restraint on the way the huge drinks company push us all around. I went to see Toy Story with my grandchild in the afternoon in Uckfield in Sussex, a Jack Daniels advert was screened before the film. Thus normalising the taking of strong spirits to a predominately 5 year old audience. Get ’em young!

    • Funnily enough Paul, I had a similar conversation to this the other day; I was watching a mainstream sister channel at 11am on a Saturday, and an alcohol company was sponsoring the film.

      Another non specific and odd example of how ingrained alcohol is upon culture, try shopping for a birthday card that does not encourage a drink or getting drunk.

    • Paul Myles Says:

      Our politicians fiddle while the nation becomes sclerotic.
      The vast majority of our politicians have no idea of how big and deep the problem is with the exception of Paul Flynn, Bob Ainstworth and Norman Baker ( He is our local politician and I meet him regularly on this matter)

  5. Tony Hand Says:

    Surely it is parents responsibility to educate their children about the world of advertising. (not just drinks industry ads)
    Abdicating responsibility in the hope that the state will sort it out is a dangerous step on an already slippery slope.
    Especially as this graph from the ONS shows that alcohol consumption is already on the decline.

    Still, if there is no real problem….shout and scream until you create one eh?

  6. Mr Bimble Says:

    Perhaps the government should try “Alcohol Prohibition” – Afterall it worked so well before & works so well now with drugs….

    But seriously – They banned tobacco advertising to reduce the glamour of smoking and reduce take-up. Why don’t they ban alcohol advertising to help achieve the same end result.

    Raising the legal age to 21 might help but then there’s loads of people under 18 getting alcohol & drinking it anyway, the only way to prevent that is to reduce the availability & increase the penalties for those who break the licensing laws.

    What was wrong with the “off-license” or “liquor store” and having to specifically go there to buy alcohol, it’s far too easy & unregulated to be able to buy it with your milk & bread.

    Increasing the price or setting a mimimum price per unit isn’t going to help & will harm poorer responsible drinkers – preventing selling below cost & banning multi-buy discounts in bars that encourage excessive drinking certainly would.

    Are we also missing something – cocaine use? It’s well publisised that coke use is on the increase and that a side-effect of taking coke is drinking more over a longer period – should we be pushing the message home that this combination is really damaging to the body?

    I do drink, but I prefer cannabis as my weekend poison – if cannabis was legalised would it reduce the damage caused by the UK’s alcohol culture or would it make things worse?

    Personally I dont think anything will change as too many MP’s have a vested interest in keepng the status-quo where alcohol is involved (how many have direct connections to alcohol/pharma companies)?

  7. Paul Myles Says:

    What I am doing is pointing out a new phenomenon, the social network, unrestricted advertising, the huge monetary resource, sophisticated film adverts, pro social drinking messages in just about every soap opera and tv series. It all has converged to create a perfect storm added to the cheapest alcohol ever seen.

    Should we surprised that we see rising incidences of alcohol related problems?

    I do not advocate prohibition, I just ask the students what they think of being targeted as the British Medical Association clearly show in their publication ‘under the influence’ check it out.

  8. Paul Myles Says:

    For another ONS stat see


    For the huge rise ofnalcohol related deaths, which by the way are, according to every other academic source, underestimated.

    I show the students this information

  9. Tony Hand Says:

    Hmmm. Drunk and disorderly stats from the Met Police…

    The actual figures are…

    2001 – 12138
    2002 – 11915
    2003 – 11069
    2004 – 9688
    2005 – 6541
    2006 – 5718
    2007 – 5142
    2008 – 5149
    2009 – 5232
    2010 – 4516

    Rising totally out of control I see…..NOT!!!

    • Mr Bimble Says:

      The met’s reported stats may not reflect reality.

      Plus large numbers of people drinking enough alcohol to damage their health doesn’t mean they will end up as D&D stats – its like saying all drug users are addicts.

      I think the breweries are deliberately targeting the younger market with deliberately targeted advertising & products to try and maximise their profits the same way the tobacco companies did so the only solution is to ban alcohol advertising and sponsership the same as they did for tobacco.

  10. Paul Myles Says:

    I ask the students the question, who would you rather trust with your well being? The British Medical Association,or the sellers and advertisers of alcohol?

  11. Mary Says:

    Answer : Do not drink or take drugs as there is not necessarily for you real help out there if you get into difficulties.

    We need some decent qualitative research certainly in the area of alcohol dependency.

  12. Mary Says:

    ps Professor Nutt gave a presentation in Newcastle upon Tyne recently and stated many negative comments about alcohol, kind of saying that drugs are less harmful…….put Cannabis on the supermarket shelves for long enough then you might change your tune. Oh and incidentally as alcohol is available 24 x 7 from corner shops ‘booze and food’ and supermarkets then if a person mixes both they may find out the negative effects of mixing both.

    • Paul Myles Says:

      I agree that there should be more work undertaken with regard to alcohol dependency. Especially the routes that people take, or are led, to become dependent.

      With regard to alcohol and other drugs, the gateway drug is alcohol, which is aggressively, sold as you mention, virtually everwhere and at all times.

  13. Mary Says:

    Will it be banned like cigarette smoking?

    It knocks people out and for many they use if for a buzz (initially) or to escape life mental pain.

    I would say education beings at school and ban all adverts. People who are chronic drinkers embody the memory of every aspect of the action in the cells in their body and we should get some real research going in that area. I plan to do just that when I complete my doctorate in an other area.

  14. Paul Myles Says:

    I do think that there should be responsible controls of alcohol advertising. My personal opinion is that it is irresponsible to advertise any substance that a dependency can be developed on. I do understand that this view is so far away from our present position in society that it is highly unlikely that any legislative body will pay any attention to it. But that should not stop anyone from bringing the issues to the next generation for their consideration. Which is exactly what the lesson modules do.

  15. Paul Myles Says:

    It is all about classical and operant conditioning, the advertisers understand that perfectly. The product of alcohol is placed very closely to the signs of success , sexual, sporting and social acceptance. Although this transgesses the voluntary codes, it happens all of the time. This is what the lesson module looks very closely at, by showing the voluntary codes and asking if any of the advertisements breaks those codes. It is immediately obvious that they do.

  16. Mary Says:

    I am not convinced about the psychological rationale. I reckon it is about individual differences, state of mental health, anxiety, life narrative, the effects of alcohol on the individual and quality of life and belief about that and what the future can hold, positive thinking and a myriad of other things. However as there is unity in that younger people are dying of alcohol related illness that aspect has to be looked at also. A person can have one or both parents alcohol dependent and develop a dependency but another person can see the bigger picture and become stronger in belief system and either abstain or drink very occasionally. It is complex but although I personally would ban all advertising I realise that alcohol is not abused by everyone and can be used in an enjoyable way. We know about alcohol so not sure how we should go with legalising drugs my instinct is no but there are people who are seriously addicted and in some who benefit from drugs to actively relieve pain. I think an eclectic approach is needed and not just banning and demonising.

  17. anu Says:

    alcohol and tobacco need to be on the 1971 act list and the list needs to reflect the reality of harm to an order, a system of regulation that’s out of the hands and control of the producers and more in the hands of the individual license holder like the old fashioned landlord pub

  18. Richard B Says:

    Your latest rantings on alcohol and there being no safe level now, at last, make it clear to me why even the prodnose control freak labour government dispensed with your services.

    Are you related in any way to Mary Hunt of the Scientific Temperance Instruction movement, or do you just like her work? It has many similarities to your own – activism and ideology cloaked in extremely poor science, diversion, and appallingly argued positions.

    You are not a scientist. You are clearly now just foaming at the mouth and you really should have a sit down and a nice cup of tea – perhaps with the equally dreadful Arnott from ASH.

  19. […] Photography (c) 2009 Sue Rider Management Recent campaigns reiterate Dr Jessen's sentiments. The marketing of alcohol is proving to have a direct significance on the consumption of drink, especially in minors. So, […]

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