Australian Government Develops Strategy for Combating Alcohol Abuse

The Federal Government in Australia is developing a strategy for combating excessive alcohol consumption, spending $53.5 million dollars on a national strategy. This comes after concern about binge drinking amongst young people, a rise of alcohol-related violence and associated problems.

The national approach follows state government strategies to combat alcohol abuse. One state government recently introduced new closing times for hotels and bars making it more difficult to continue drinking throughout the early hours of the morning.

Another tactic the Government is proposing is to tax the drinks referred to as alcopops –- pre-mixed drinks marketed to young people. Coca-cola Amatil is upset by this move believing that it will have no affect on binge drinking. However, evidence on the taxing of certain alcoholic drinks has shown that when taxed, consumption drops.

For example, when light beer was introduced which attracted a lower tax, a significant number of people switched to the less expensive light beer. In addition, in one state the effect of higher taxes on alcohol lead to reduced alcohol related problems in all communities including indigenous ones. However, this tax was later removed resulting in huge social problems relating to an increase in the consumption of alcohol.

Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that teenage girls are becoming heavy drinkers –- 3 times more likely than boys to consume alcohol once a week. They are also drinking more and are more likely to drink at harmful levels with figures showing that nearly 30% put themselves at risk every month (1).

The short term risks include risk-taking behaviour, coordination problems leading to falling over and other accidents, speech problems, unconsciousness, and heart problems (2). While long term there is the risk of breast cancer based on research linking it to the moderate consumption of alcohol.

Over the last 12 months the consumption of alcopops jumped by 15%. The number of teenage girls between the ages of 12-17 that consumed alcopops between 2000-2004 rose from 23% to almost 50% (1).

Surprisingly the tax is not being supported by the opposition who claim that it will be blocked. This is despite the evidence that a tax will contribute to a reduction in consumption as advised by experts. Professor John Toumbourou, of Health Psychology at Deakin University, believes a price increase will affect consumption particularly of girls that have fixed drinking preferences.

It is not just governments who have a role to play but parents as well. Research has shown that introducing alcohol to children at an early age to encourage sensible drinking is not good at all, as the earlier they are introduced, the more likely they will become binge drinkers.

For this reason the National Health and Medical Research Council changed its guidelines. It now recommends that children 15 and under should not be given any alcohol. Some health experts want to take this further and make it illegal for anyone to give children and young teenagers any alcohol.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now also developing strategies to combat binge drinking among young people as well as health problems caused by over-consumption. This will include guidelines on the marketing, pricing and distribution of alcohol.

For information on alcohol and health see:
(www.abc.net.au/health/library/stori…)

Reference:

1. (www.smh.com.au/news/adele-horin/def…)

2. (www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol…)

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