The government has failed to properly tackle the growing problem of alcohol abuse among teenagers, despite warnings from the National Council for the Child more than two years ago, The Jerusalem Post heard Monday.
In an October 3 letter addressed to Prime Minister's Office director-general Eyal Gabay, the council's executive director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman points out that the NGO urged the government in November 2007 to create an interministerial committee, with the aim of reaching out to youths engaged in heavy drinking, and better enforcing the law banning alcohol sales to minors. However, this has not been done.
"We have not noticed any government campaigns against drinking alcohol among teenagers," Kadman told the Post. "There are campaigns against smoking and taking drugs but nothing concerning alcohol."
He said that the Prime Minister's Office had responded to his letter on Monday, suggesting the NGO contact the Public Security Ministry, which runs the Israel Anti-Drug Authority.
"Everyone is working separately," Kadman said, referring to individual efforts by the ministries of Public Security, Health, Education, Justice and Welfare and Social Services. "But this is serious and it needs to be a united effort."
According to Kadman, statistic on teenage smoking show that in light of a national campaign over the past several years, there has been a fall in the number of youths who start to light up. However the same cannot be said about alcohol abuse.
A report earlier this year from the youth-at-risk charity Elem found that there has been a significant increase in the number of youths using and abusing alcohol, especially among immigrant teens. In addition, a State Comptroller's Report on alcohol and drug abuse among Ethiopian teenagers found that two-thirds reported experimenting with alcohol and 40 percent admitted to getting drunk.
Information on the Anti-Drug Authority's Web site pertains mainly to substance abuse, but a report from August 2008 shows that nearly 20% of those 12 to 18 years of age were used to consuming at least five alcoholic units within one hour at least once each month.
"There is a growing problem of excessive alcohol consumption among young people in our society and many of the cases end up in the emergency room," Kadman said. "Something needs to be done about it."
In addition, he noted a recent study by Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin showing that youths treated for alcohol poisoning are usually not referred to social services for on-going treatment.
He also criticized the failure of law enforcement to prevent young people from buying liquor.
"Just recently, over Succot, we were called to a nightclub in the Sharon area that was serving alcohol to minors," Kadman said, adding that the authorities did not deal with this particular place.
A response from the Public Security Ministry said, however, that the ministry was active on three fronts - enforcing the law, information and prevention among teens, and producing additional legislation - in its fight against teenage alcohol consumption.
"The ministry has numerous projects operating in this area," said a spokesman. "One of those is our City of No Violence program, where one of its main priorities is reducing alcohol abuse and violence among teens."
The spokesman also pointed to several legislative measures that are already in the works, including increased supervision of stores selling alcohol and a complete ban on selling the drinks in gas stations; preventing stores open 24 hours from selling liquor at night; and a new law forbidding alcohol consumption in open areas such as public parks, areas around nightclubs and other places of entertainment.