Strong leadership needed to reverse alcohol harms

Tuesday 1 September, 2009

A Coalition of health agencies has endorsed the National Preventative Health Taskforce's recommendations on alcohol warning labels, implementing an independent advertising regulator and taxation and price reforms.

Alcohol Policy Coalition member and Acting Director of Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre, Professor Robin Room said the recommendations provided a clear roadmap for change, and would encourage the government to implement them as soon as possible.

"The Taskforce has consulted widely and made some excellent recommendations but there will be significant opposition to these proposals from the alcohol and advertising industry, so the government will have to show strong leadership to implement them," said Professor Room.

Todd Harper, CEO of VicHealth, commended the proposal to include warning labels on all alcohol products.

"We've seen the impact that labelling has had on cigarettes; displaying warning labels on alcohol products will not only educate the public on the health dangers of alcohol such as cancer, but if used as part of comprehensive range of prevention policies it will also challenge traditional drinking behaviours.

Mr Harper said: "VicHealth's survey conducted earlier this year found that:

  • 85% support recommended daily guidelines for low risk alcohol consumption being placed on health advisory labels
  • 76% support nutritional information to be displayed on labels
  • 86% support ingredients being displayed on labels."

Director of Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Prevention Centre, Craig Sinclair, said it was vital that an independent regulator was set up to monitor alcohol advertising as self-regulation was simply not working, despite claims to the contrary by the alcohol and advertising industries.

"Self-regulation is the same as having the fox in charge of the hen house. We have seen self-regulation in Australia fail time after time.

"There is simply too much self-interest and too little transparency for the public to have any confidence in the Advertising Standards Board and the Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code," said Mr Sinclair.

John Rogerson, CEO of Australian Drug Foundation, said the government must stand firm on alcohol tax reform in order to provide the financial incentives required to complement a holistic prevention approach.

"Alcohol must be taxed based on harm and recognise the real costs that come from excessive consumption.

"We've already seen how effectively tax can be used in terms of shaping consumption behaviours - sales of alcopops dropped by 29% after the tax was reintroduced in April 2008," said Mr Rogerson.