Council hopeful looks to Iceland for inspiration

Damien Smith of Rivervale. Photo: David Baylis
Damien Smith of Rivervale. Photo: David Baylis

PERTH could learn a lesson from an internationally renowned Icelandic program that has turned a drinking and drug crisis among its teenagers into a resounding success story.

Damien Smith said since the tiny island nation introduced the Planet Youth program in the 90s, youth alcohol and other drug use rates have transformed from some of the highest in Europe, to among the lowest.

The program has also seen parents spending more time with their children and reductions in bullying, juvenile crime and youth entering drug treatment.

Mr Smith, who is running as a candidate in the City of Belmont local government election, has launched a petition to introduce the Icelandic program in the area.

“In 1998 a survey found 42 per cent of Year 10 students in Iceland had been drunk in the past 30 days,” he said.

“Downtown Reykjavik was an awful place to be at night because it was full of drunk teenagers.

“So Iceland used some old-fashioned common sense based on the premise that if you get kids into sport, you get them out of trouble.

“They started subsidising sport, making it easier to access and educating parents on its benefits.”

Mr Smith said crime was on the rise in our suburbs despite ever-increasing expenditure on enforcement.

“We keep pouring money into patrol cars and cameras and all that does is move the trouble away,” he said.

“We need to look at engaging people and getting them out of the cycle of crime.

“To engage a kid into sport would be miniscule in cost compared to the lifetime cost of a criminal.

“We have 5000 kids in the City and we spend $500,000 a year on one patrol car.

“You can get an awful lot of footy for that.”

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation is currently undertaking a two-year trial of the Planet Youth program at 10 trial sites over east.

The Foundation said between 1998 and 2018, the percentage of Iceland’s Year 10 students who regularly drank alcohol fell from 42 per cent to 5 per cent, daily cigarette smokers in the same age group dropped from 23 per cent to 2 per cent and the number of students who used cannabis once or more in their lifetime declined from 17 per cent to six per cent.

Planet Youth has now been adopted in 20 countries including Ireland, Chile, Spain, France, Italy, Russia, Sweden and Norway.