Sadeke Brooks,. Staff Reporter
While there has been much talk about underage drinking and steps are being made to prevent it from happening, the matter is still a problem in Jamaica.
In a report, Comparative Analysis of Student Drug Use in Caribbean Countries (2010, done by Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, it was revealed that the average age of those who first use alcohol in Jamaica is 11.71 years old.
However, John Brown(not real name) says he has been going to parties since he was five.
"Yuh see like how mi guh party, mi pick up bottle and sell. When mi guh a town, mi sell chocolate and dem deh so that any party mi guh, mi can buy miself sup'm," said 12-year-old John, whose drinks of choice include Magnum, Dragon Stout and beer.
When asked about his parents and how he is allowed to attend these events, he said, "Mi nuh live wid mi madda. Mi fadda, him cyaah manage him liquor and him nah work neida."
The outspoken John, who lives in the Kingston 13 area, lamented that when the new school year began he was only able to "buy a bag and a suit of khaki and six book 'cause a dat alone mi coulda afford. Mi save $500 fi di extra lesson."
He continued, "A $6,900 mi pay fi mi school fee and him (father) cyaah afford it, and next month a mi birthday and mi sure him nah go buy mi nutten."
Despite selling in downtown Kingston from Monday to Saturday and going to school daily, John still finds time to party.
Little parental supervision
Since the start of the new school year, he says he has not been to any parties. But during the summer, he said he went to quite a few.
"Mi will go water party and so and nearby party 'cause war a gwaan and mi nuh inna di mix up. When mi party, mi come in like 2 o'clock," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
While John has very little parental supervision, 16-year-old André Brown says his parents give him permission to attend events.
"From mi about 13 you can guh a party if you waah guh a party weh keep pon the road. Yuh just ask if you can guh out and dem seh 'yeah man', and yuh just put on yuh clothes and go out wid yuh fren dem," he told The Sunday Gleaner, as he sat in a popular fast-food restaurant in downtown Kingston after leaving school on Friday afternoon.
"Yuh haffi buy alcohol and so because a dat dem a sell at the bar. Mi drink like bout four, five cup (of liquor). Mi nuh mix it strong fi it affect mi certain way."
He noted that most of his partying takes place during the Christmas or summer holidays at events in his community.
The Global School-Based Student Health Survey - Jamaica 2010 says the "percentage of students who drank at least one drink containing alcohol on one or more of the past 30 days" was 52.5 per cent, and the "percentage of students who drank so much alcohol that they were really drunk one or more times during their life" was 35.3 per cent.
While those 2010 statistics are worrying, Denise Chin, treatment officer at the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), said there have been improvements in recent times, but underage drinking is still a concern.
"We have been making some effort to curtail this. It has been decreasing because of the strategies," she said, noting that persons are now being asked to present identification to enter events.
In July 2012, the 'I'm Legal' campaign was launched with Red Stripe and J.Wray & Nephew spearheading the effort.
In a joint statement, the two drink companies said: "We consider this an important step in controlling underage drinking, by ensuring only adults 18 and over are allowed inside our events and consuming our products. All our events are only for adults 18 and over. To
ensure that is maintained, we have decided to implement an ID check system which will be done by the respective party promoters."
But despite these efforts and the new initiative seemingly being enforced, Chin says there is still a problem.
"Alcohol overall is a problem in Jamaica. Alcohol is the most abused legal substance," she said.
As it relates to minors, she said summer is the time when drinking alcohol is most common among persons under 18 years old. She said underage drinking is also more common at all-inclusive events and at parties where the liquor and entry are cheap.
However, she said problems with addiction among children is uncommon, as children do not have as much access to liquor as adults, and liquor is generally expensive.
Instead, she said youngsters tend to participate in binge drinking, which is heavy consumption of liquor over a short period of time.
Chin said the NCDA does not have children in counselling for alcohol addiction, but they do work with children who are experimenting.
In trying to prevent addiction problems down the line among children, Chin said the NCDA educates them about the dangers they are getting themselves into and teach them health and lifestyle practices. She stressed that parents also have a big role to play in combating the problem.
Chin also stressed the fact that there are several negative consequences that can result from drinking liquor, and children should be made aware of them.
She said consuming liquor can lead to risky behaviour, poor judgement and alcohol poisoning. In the long term, there are other problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, nerve damage, sexual problems, brain ulcers, cancer of the mouth and throat, infection of the stomach walls, high blood pressure, stroke and vitamin D deficiencies.
While he claims that his events do not attract children, promoter Desmond 'Hard Earz' Steele says underage drinking is still a problem that needs to be addressed.
"I don't have that problem 'cause I don't do kids events. But I've gone to events where I see kids. The kids who save their lunch money or their parents give them money, they go out in numbers," he said.
Although there has been some education on the matter and a renewed campaign that started last year, Steele said there is still room for improvement.
"I would not say they are doing enough. I think what it needs is a wholehearted effort from everyone - government, drink companies and promoters," he said.
Work in progress
According to André Cowan, marketing manager at Worthy Park Estate Ltd, his company has been playing its part in dealing with the issue. When compared to First World countries, he said it is not enough.
"However, I think it is a work in progress."
Cowan said drink companies and government have been doing their part, but "the onus is on promoters to ensure that patrons are of the age (to drink)".
He said Worthy Park Estate has been doing a lot of advertising on TV, radio and print. And, as part of contracts with promoters of events they sponsor, he said it must be said at their events that you have to be 18 and older to drink. He said there is also signs at events stating this, and the company also has '18 years and older' marshals at events checking for IDs.
Following the staging of an event, he said the company also meets with the promoters to discuss how it went. And if there is a breach of the contract, especially as it relates to underage drinking, the partnership might end.
Look out next week when The Sunday Gleaner continues its series, 'Dancehall: A child's playground', where we look at marketing to children.