Diageo and other alcohol companies and front groups fund alcohol school programs around the world. Research shows that these programs serve alcohol industry interests and mislead teachers and students.
In June 2021, Diageo launched a free digital version of the alcohol education program “Smashed”, a global program available in 19 countries as a 60-minute cinematic e-learning experience aimed at 11–14-year-olds. The initiative is said to educate teenagers by exploring the decisions they make.
Learners are encouraged to observe and reflect on underage drinking themes and answer questions about the choices made by the teenagers such as “What is the most common risk young people face when drinking underage?”.
Other alcohol companies and alcohol industry front groups have spent considerable resources on launching similar school programs around the world.
Research has revealed the concerning nature of these types of programs, which echo industry narratives and sometimes distort the risk of harm:
“Alcohol industry-sponsored youth education programmes serve industry interests and promote moderate consumption while purportedly educating children about harms and influences of alcohol use. There are considerable conflicts of interest in the delivery of alcohol education programmes funded by the alcohol industry and intermediary bodies in receipt of such funding.”
Smashed and other alcohol industry funded school programs were found to reproduce industry-favorable discourses on personal responsibility and moderate consumption. By individualizing the problem definitions and interventions attention is directed away from the most cost-effective population-based interventions such as alcohol taxation, reduced availability and marketing regulations:
“In this way the materials introduce a moralising aspect to teaching about alcohol, and create a conceptual vocabulary that precludes articulating a structural and context-dependent account of alcohol harms and solutions that involve collective action. … At no point are teachers and students encouraged to reflect on the role of society and government in acting to protect children and young people from the harms of alcohol and targeting by industry, on the goals, nature and effects of advertising, or of the industry’s obligation to act ethically.”
Other research shows that young people who have greater exposure to alcohol marketing appear to be more likely subsequently to initiate alcohol use and engage in binge and hazardous alcohol use. Smashed and other alcohol industry funded education programs do not articulate the role of alcohol marketing at all:
“Alcohol advertising, accessibility, availability or pricing, all of which influence youth and adult drinking behaviours, and the alcohol industry’s influence over these aspects of alcohol regulation, are not included in the problematising of underage drinking. This omission is evident in lesson plans intended to teach students about what influences behaviour.”
Read more about alcohol industry activities in schools here.