Drinks industry representatives meet in Brussels to discuss underage drinking

Members of the European Forum for Responsible Drinking - which brings together many of Europe's largest drinks companies - held the latest in a series of conferences in Brussels on Wednesday. Statistics quoted at the forum suggest that Czech children start drinking earlier than children anywhere else in the European Union - on average at the age of eleven. But is the drinks industry part of the solution, or part of the problem? Attending the conference on behalf of Czech spirits producers was David Binar. Radio Prague asked him why he believed Czech children started drinking so early.

"It's a complex problem. I believe it's a problem of the family. The parents have less time to spend with their children, they have to go to work, both of them, and the children do whatever they please. Very often the parents give the children money, they spend their time in groups and the peer pressure is very strong to do things which are very often forbidden. It's not only alcohol, it can be drugs, it can be whatever."

But isn't it also partly the fault of the drinks industry? The drinks industry does portray drinking as cool and sexy. It's no wonder then that children start drinking so early when they want to emulate grown-ups.

"It has never been proven that advertising has such an impact on the behaviour of young children. On the contrary, it's not advertising which makes young people drink, it's more the family, it's the influence from the peer group, it's much, much higher. Advertising is here to push brands, but not to push a category."

Nonetheless, what is this drinks industry doing to combat underage drinking?

"One of our major projects we're working upon now is a webpage designed for young children - 11-16 - for their parents, for teachers. The site is designed to become part of the curriculum in schools. Classes should be visiting this webpage, with their teachers, with their parents. The page contains information on alcohol, how it works, what are its effects."

Is it the case that alcohol is very much underestimated in this country?

"That's a good question. On the other hand, sometimes I have the feeling it's overestimated, it's exaggerated. The problems related to alcohol are severe of course, but if you compare it to other problems I'm not sure - and this is my personal opinion - whether alcohol really is such an issue and such a problem as some people are trying to persuade us."