France weighs laws to combat 'le binge-drinking'

PARIS (AFP) - Inciting minors to binge-drink in France could become punishable by a year in prison and a fine of up to €15,000 euros (S$24,000) under a draft law submitted to ministers on Wednesday.

"We have to put a stop to drunkenness that does such damage to young people," said Health Minister Marisol Touraine, adding the draft legislation aimed also to prevent "inciting people to drink on the Internet".

This appeared to be a reference to crazes such as "Neknominate" - an online game that involves players filming themselves drinking large quantities of alcohol while performing a stunt.

"Directly provoking a minor to excessive consumption of alcohol will be punished by a year imprisonment and a fine of €15,000," the text of the draft legislation said.

Anyone who incites someone else to "drink until drunk" will be liable to six months in prison and a fine of €7,500.

The parameters of the law were not specified nor was it immediately clear how it would be enforced. If approved by the Cabinet, the Bill would go to the French parliament for debate and a vote.

Touraine also said she wanted to take aim at "games or objects that glorify the excessive consumption of alcohol," citing t-shirts or mobile phone covers with amusing scenes of drunkenness.

A recent report by the country's National Institute for Prevention and Education in Health warned that "the frequency of drunkenness among adolescents and young adults seems to be on the rise".

The percentage of 17-year-old getting drunk 10 times or more in a year rose from 8.6 per cent in 2008 to 10.5 per cent in 2011, according to the report.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report earlier this year, close to one in three people in France had what it called a "heavy drinking incident" per month.

WHO has repeatedly warned that "harmful drinking among young people is an increasing concern in many countries".

While long an issue in Britain, it is a more recent phenomenon in other countries like France, WHO said.

France raised its legal drinking limit from 16 to 18 in 2009.

Last year, the Academie Francaise, the guardians of the French language, decreed that the commonly used phrase "binge drinking" should be rendered as "beuverie express" (quick drinking).

It defined binge drinking as "the massive absorption of alcohol, generally in a group, seeking to induce drunkenness in the least possible time".

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