By Maria Gregoriou
KENTHEA, a non-governmental organisation against addictions, is planning to start running a programme from September to educate parents and students in schools on alcohol consumption and responsible drinking.
The programme is based on the national drug strategy and action plan established by the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction. The plan will start in September and will end in 2016.
The latest survey on teenagers and alcohol consumption in 2011 completed by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) in collaboration with the education ministry showed that the number of Cypriot youths who consume alcohol was up 11 per cent since 2007.
According to the research one out of every two students in Cyprus between the age of 15 and 16 bought alcohol for their own consumption.
On average only 37 per cent of the study group in Europe bought alcohol to drink during the same time period.
“Alcohol availability is much more fluid in Cyprus than other European countries. This is one of the main reasons why half of youths drink, because they can easily get their hands on it, no questions asked,” neurologist, physiatrist and scientific director of KENTHEA, Kyriacos Veresies said.
“Before, Cypriots used to drink and eat but now they drink to get high. It has become a new lifestyle, a fashionable pastime for teenagers to with their friends,” Veresies said.
Another reason behind this upward trend was found to be the increased consumption and availability of alcohol pops such as, Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ice, according to Veresies.
The change in alcohol consumption has also been noted by sociologist Giorgos Petrou.
“The problem is a double-edged sword. Even if alcohol is forbidden to young people, if they want it they will get it,” he said.
According to Petrou the important issue is to educate youngsters on why over-consumption may lead to addiction and therefore become dangerous. This starts in the home and follows into schools, he said.
“We should teach our young that you do not have to drink to have friends or to become part of a group,” Petrou said.
In Cyprus a glass of wine a day was considered good for you in the past, but now culture promotes the idea that in order to feel good you must drink, Petrou added.
The legal age for alcohol consumption in Cyprus is 17. According to police, checks in pubs, bars and clubs are done on a daily basis and complaints are followed up.
Bar owners are fined €59 for every under-age person found drinking on the premises. They are given 15 days to pay the fine and if they do not do so, the amount is doubled. If it is not paid within a month, the owner is sent to court.
According to police, if a large number of under-age people are found drinking, the owner is sent straight to court.
However a German mother of a 15-year-old boy in Larnaca, Ute Kallis, said that it is very difficult to stop pub and club owners from selling alcohol to teenagers.
“My son could go to some bars in Larnaca and pay €10 and drink as much as he likes as it is an open bar,” Kallis said, adding that parenting can only go so far when it comes to teenagers and their need to fit in.
“Teenagers are at a very delicate age and they want to meet with their friends. Parents can protect their children up to a point, but the law must be withheld for their total protection,” she said.
“If it is so easy for them to get alcohol, then they will be tempted and drink to be part of the gang.”
She said drunken teenagers walking along Larnaca seafront on weekends was a common sight.
They can just go to a kiosk, get some alcohol and drink on the beach,” Kallis added.
The ESPAD study is carried out every four years. In 2011, 36 European countries took part. School students between 15 and 16-years-old are given questionnaires in school in March or April. The ESPAD report is released in May of the following year.
The objective of the survey is to monitor and compare trends between countries. Student’s participation is voluntary and anonymous. The next survey will be carried out in 2015.