Government must act on alcohol tax omission

Leading health and medical organisations have criticised Treasurer Wayne Swan’s decision to renege on commitments that October’s tax forum would consider alcohol tax issues.

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) said it was disappointing that there would be no public health representation at the forum. Despite clear commitments in early July that alcohol tax would be discussed, the list of participants the Treasurer released on Friday included several celebrities but not even one place for a public health organisation or academic to attend.

As a result there was no prospect that alcohol tax issues would be discussed.

NAAA has more than 50 member organisations around Australia including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Cancer Council, the Australian Drug Foundation, the Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation (AER Foundation) and the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI). Co-chair of the NAAA Todd Harper, Chief Executive Officer of the Cancer Council Victoria, said: “It is very disappointing that the Government has clearly taken alcohol
tax off the agenda – even as an issue for discussion.

“The Henry Review criticised Australia’s present alcohol tax system as ‘incoherent’, and recommended a new approach based on volumetric or alcohol content-based tax. Currently different products are taxed at different rates and because of the influence of the wine industry, wine is now available for less than $2 a litre – cheaper than milk.

The Government’s Preventative Health Taskforce has also called for taxes on alcohol to be overhauled. Mr Harper added: “The complexities of the alcohol tax system would not have been resolved at the tax forum, but it is important to make a start and that is the place for it.”

Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of the AER Foundation, said: “This tax forum should not exclude discussion of tax on alcohol, which places massive health, social and economic burdens on our community.

“By not allowing the discussion of alcohol taxation to occur, Mr Swan has ensured that alcohol will continue to be sold for less than bottled water.

“We urge him to reconsider his decision and offer health experts a place in the discussions, enabling the forum to consider reform to the alcohol tax system as recommended by the Henry Review.”

Mr Thorn said that if the Treasurer could find room for ten students at the tax forum, surely he could find places for representatives from mainstream public health with expertise in dealing with some of the Australian community’s most important health and social problems. If not, the tax forum would be more a tax farce. Dr Steve Hambleton, AMA Federal President, added: “Doctors see the impacts of excess alcohol use every day and every night across Australia, in emergency departments and in general practices. Every option should be considered to prevent these harms, and the terrible impacts they can have on people’s lives.

“The Government’s tax forum in October must consider alcohol taxation and must include representatives with public health expertise. The costs of alcohol abuse are too high to exclude this issue from tax reform.”

National Alliance calls for alcohol health labelling

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has called for early action to introduce evidence-based alcohol labels and product information, following the release by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF) of a policy paper on alcohol labelling. The NAAA is urging the Federal Government to make the proposed warning labels mandatory.

Professor Mike Daube, Co‐Chair of the Alliance and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, said clear and effective health warnings for alcohol were long overdue.

“Australians are simply not aware of the acute and long‐term health and social problems caused by alcohol,” said Professor Daube.

“There is a world of difference between the soft, barely noticeable warnings favoured by the drinks industry and the kind of warnings that are needed'”

“It is also absurd that alcohol products are exempt from the requirement to provide consumer information required for all other food and beverage products.”

“The warnings proposed cover themes such as alcohol and injury, drink driving, alcohol and pregnancy, alcohol and cancer, and the impact of alcohol on the developing brain”

“Mandatory health warnings on alcohol products and packaging, as part of a comprehensive program including public education, will provide consumers with clear information about the wide range of disease and injury linked to alcohol, and help reduce Australia’s massive toll of alcohol‐related harm.”

Professor Daube said that health warning labels can be effective in both raising awareness of health risks and changing people’s behavior, because they target consumers at critical decision points – when they are buying and when they are drinking alcohol.

“Health labels also have strong community support, with research conducted by VicHealth showing that 85 per cent of Victorians support health advisory labels on alcohol.”

“Decisions about health information and warnings should be made by governments and health authorities, not by an industry whose first interest is in maximising sales of its products”.

The NAAA represents more than 50 health and community organisations from across Australia.