National Alcohol Policy to focus on drunk driving and underage drinking

Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity says government will be taking steps in the coming days to address the problem of drunk driving

Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity this afternoon launched the National Alcohol Policy for public consultation
Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity this afternoon launched the National Alcohol Policy for public consultation

Michael Farrugia, the minister for Family and Social Solidarity this afternoon launched the National Alcohol Policy for public consultation. The policy aims to adopt a multifaceted, multi-sectoral approach in order to minimize the harm caused by the irresponsible use of alcohol.

The policy contains 9 policy actions that are specific to underage drinking, 8 policy actions that deal with the alcohol consumption by the general population and 7 actions that specifically deal with the problem of drunk driving.

Professor Richard Muscat, Chairperson of National Addiction Advisory Board, said that it is imperative for the country to address the problem of youths drinking. He said that at a young age, ones brain is still developing and the intake of alcohol slows down and disrupts this development.

With adults he said, it should be made clear that there are serious consequences to excessive drinking, ranging from health problems such as liver failure and cancer, to traffic accidents. He said that when under the influence of alcohol, ones reaction time increases significantly, resulting in a higher chance of accidents. Muscat also pointed out that 40% of cases of domestic violence happen under the influence of alcohol.

He stressed that the policy had been developed using an evidence-based approach and a number of indicators had been identified and will be used to gauge whether or not the policy is working.  He added that the policy was tailored to suit the needs and experiences of the Maltese population. 

Farrugia said that a number of groups within society had been identified and will be consulted on the new policy. He said that despite the fact that the existing policy is in desperate need of revision, many had been hesitant in tackling what he described as a sensitive issue, however this had to change and the government was therefore putting forward this policy for consultation.

The biggest problems he said were drunk driving, with too many accidents involving drunk drivers being reported each year, and underage drinking.

“We have a number of young people who are drinking when the law already states that is illegal for them to do so, a part of this policy will address this and ensure that the law is enforced,” said Farrugia.

The policy, he said, will seek to enforce harsher penalties on those who break the law by allowing underage youths, entry into certain establishments as well as those who sell them alcohol. Following the publication of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, Farrugia said there will also be a number of educational campaigns and coordination with the police and the Education ministry in order to explain to the various relevant entities what activities youths are engaging in, as reported by themselves.

The minister also said there would be a push to have alcohol placed in a specific section of supermarkets, increased responsibility on bartenders, as well as increasing the frequency with which breathalyser tests are carried out.

“We are not proposing to have police waiting outside wedding halls, however the culture must slowly start to change,” said Farrugia.

Public consultation shall be open for six weeks, until the 17 November and the public is invited to send any suggestions and feedback to [email protected]. The document can be downloaded from the Ministry for Family and Social Solidarity website.