Summit of experts and leaders call for new national strategy to stop alcohol harm

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has welcomed the call from this week’s national summit of experts and leaders for a new national alcohol strategy to address Australia’s harmful drinking culture.

The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) national alcohol summit held in Canberra over the past two days has brought together representatives from all tiers of government, community leaders, medical and health experts, police, families of victims, and other stakeholders to develop practical measures and enduring solutions.

Professor Mike Daube, Co-Chair of the NAAA said “We congratulate the AMA for its leadership in hosting this historic summit which has culminated in recommendations for a new national alcohol strategy to stop the harm caused by alcohol in Australia.”

“However the strategy must translate into real action by governments, not further delays or compromises which ultimately costs thousands of lives,” Prof Daube said.

“All Australians are affected in some way by the negative effects of alcohol. We know what the cause of the problems are and we know what the effective solutions are. We now need action”, Prof Daube said.

  • Alcohol kills one Australian teenager every week.
  • 41% of domestic assaults are alcohol related.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the most common preventable cause of developmental disability in Australia.
  • Alcohol hospitalises Indigenous Australians at 4 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.
  • 3 in 4 Australians believe our community has a drinking problem.

Professor Daube said “Every day, alcohol is responsible for the deaths of 15 Australians, and the worst thing about this tragedy is that most of the harm is preventable.”

Some clear priorities for government action have emerged from the summit, including: reform of the alcohol tax system, protecting young people from alcohol advertising, and a comprehensive awareness campaign about the health risks of alcohol.

“These are all evidence-based strategies that the NAAA supports because they can significantly reduce alcohol related harm in Australia,” Professor Daube said.

Control alcohol advertising and protect kids

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has today urged the Government to act speedily to protect children from dangerously high levels of alcohol advertising following the release of a new report on alcohol advertising by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency today.

Professor Mike Daube AO, Co-Chair of the NAAA and alcohol spokesperson for the Public Health Association of Australia, said Australian families are under siege from alcohol marketing, with children often seeing more alcohol advertising than adults.

“Alcohol has a devastating impact on individuals and the community. It’s time to protect kids from the relentless pressure to drink that comes from unrestrained alcohol advertising on TV, through sports sponsorship and in social media, at all times of the day, 365 days of the year,” Professor Daube said.

“This new report makes it abundantly clear that the Government should act to end the loophole permitting TV alcohol promotion through sport, and end the current charade of industry self-regulation.”

Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said: “An obvious first step to protect children from alcohol advertising is to close the regulatory loopholes that allows advertising of alcohol products on television during children’s viewing hours, that is, during live sport telecasts.”

“Sports on TV are extremely popular with children, even more so than some cartoons. So, if we stop alcohol advertising there, we can start protecting children from the powerful marketing forces encouraging them to drink.”

“International research shows that children who regularly see alcohol advertising are more likely to start drinking at a younger age, and drink at harmful levels as an adult. Much of this marketing also has the effect of reinforcing the harmful drinking culture in Australia.”

“Alcohol takes a massive toll on the community, causing mental illness, violence, child abuse, and diseases such as liver cirrhosis and several types of cancer that could be prevented. The time has come for responsible regulation, established by government and backed by sanctions for serious non-compliance,” Mr Harper said.

Professor Daube added that the NAAA also urged the government to reconsider its widely-criticised decision to defund the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), the nation’s peak alcohol and drug treatment and services organisation.

“This bizarre decision was taken without consultation and warning. There is still time to overturn the decision before ADCA closes its doors at the end of the week.”

“Decisions such as those on alcohol advertising and the future of ADCA will show whether the Government has any serious intention of changing Australia’s drinking culture and protecting children from predatory alcohol companies”.

New results: Majority of Australia’s jurisdications failing to implement evidence-based alcohol policies

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has today urged the Government to act speedily to protect children from dangerously high levels of alcohol advertising following the release of a new report on alcohol advertising by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency today.

Professor Mike Daube AO, Co-Chair of the NAAA and alcohol spokesperson for the Public Health Association of Australia, said Australian families are under siege from alcohol marketing, with children often seeing more alcohol advertising than adults.

“Alcohol has a devastating impact on individuals and the community. It’s time to protect kids from the relentless pressure to drink that comes from unrestrained alcohol advertising on TV, through sports sponsorship and in social media, at all times of the day, 365 days of the year,” Professor Daube said.

“This new report makes it abundantly clear that the Government should act to end the loophole permitting TV alcohol promotion through sport, and end the current charade of industry self-regulation.”

Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said: “An obvious first step to protect children from alcohol advertising is to close the regulatory loopholes that allows advertising of alcohol products on television during children’s viewing hours, that is, during live sport telecasts.”

“Sports on TV are extremely popular with children, even more so than some cartoons. So, if we stop alcohol advertising there, we can start protecting children from the powerful marketing forces encouraging them to drink.”

“International research shows that children who regularly see alcohol advertising are more likely to start drinking at a younger age, and drink at harmful levels as an adult. Much of this marketing also has the effect of reinforcing the harmful drinking culture in Australia.”

“Alcohol takes a massive toll on the community, causing mental illness, violence, child abuse, and diseases such as liver cirrhosis and several types of cancer that could be prevented. The time has come for responsible regulation, established by government and backed by sanctions for serious non-compliance,” Mr Harper said.

Professor Daube added that the NAAA also urged the government to reconsider its widely-criticised decision to defund the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), the nation’s peak alcohol and drug treatment and services organisation.

“This bizarre decision was taken without consultation and warning. There is still time to overturn the decision before ADCA closes its doors at the end of the week.”

“Decisions such as those on alcohol advertising and the future of ADCA will show whether the Government has any serious intention of changing Australia’s drinking culture and protecting children from predatory alcohol companies”.

Federal Government urged to save essential alcohol and drug services

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) is urging the Federal Government to reverse its decision to defund the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA).

The NAAA has expressed its strong support for the continuation of ADCA, which is led by former Liberal MP Dr Mal Washer, especially the role it plays as a national voice of the country’s alcohol and drug treatment agencies and the important services it provides to communities throughout Australia.

Professor Mike Daube, Co-Chair of the NAAA and Chair of the WA Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA), said, “We urge the government to reconsider a decision which will leave a huge hole in the capacity of the sector to address harmful alcohol and drug use across Australia”.

“The decision to terminate ADCA’s funding was made without any discussion or consultation. Ending the nation’s peak alcohol and drug services organisation after 46 years would be damaging for alcohol and drug services and the community. We are writing to Health Minister Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister Senator Fiona Nash urging them to reverse their decision.

A decision to refund ADCA would send out encouraging signals that the government is willing to listen to this important sector”, Professor Daube said.

Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of the Cancer Council Victoria said, “ADCA provides essential resources and support for health professionals who assist people with alcohol and drug problems, such as the National Drug Sector Information Service and the National Inhalants Information Service. Cutting ADCA’s funding will leave alcohol and drug agencies and their workers stranded and without a voice to speak on their behalf at the national level.

“We call on the government to reverse its decision on ADCA’s funding and show its support for organisations and professionals that are working hard to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and drug use in the Australian community, Mr Harper said.

Lives saved and federal budget windfall from alcohol tax reform: New Australian research

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) is urging the federal government to overhaul the broken alcohol tax system, following new research published today in the Medical Journal of Australia showing the potential health and economic gains from reform.

The article published from the new research, “Estimated impacts of alternative Australian alcohol taxation structures on consumption, public health and government revenues”, compares four options for alcohol tax reform and the health and economic benefits for Australia that would flow from each.

“Our findings show that any of the changes to the current alcohol tax system would be a highly cost-effective health care intervention. One of the most effective options is to abolish the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) system and replace it with a volumetric tax on wine, which is how beer and spirits are already taxed,” said lead author of the research Professor Chris Doran at the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

This would increase federal government taxation revenue by $1.32 billion, save $820 million in avoidable health care costs, and save lives, he said.

Professor Mike Daube, Co-Chair of the NAAA and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth said, “This research shows that alcohol tax reform is a win-win for the federal government. Fixing Australia’s chaotic alcohol taxation system will yield much-needed revenue for the government and savings to the health and police systems; it will also prevent an enormous range of health and social problems”.

Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said, “Alcohol takes a massive toll on the community, causing mental illness, violence, child abuse, and diseases such as liver cirrhosis and several types of cancer that could be prevented through some obvious changes to the alcohol taxation system.”

The research found that the most effective change to alcohol taxation, of the options examined, is to replace the Wine Equalisation Tax on wine and cider products with a new volumetric tax equal to the current excise on low strength off-site (takeaway) beer.

International studies have also shown the effectiveness of taxation in reducing alcohol problems in the population. A consistent finding internationally is that when alcohol prices increase, overall levels of consumption are reduced along with rates of risky drinking and alcohol related harm.

State’s top cop demands national action on alcohol

Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan will have the nation’s leaders in his sights when he takes to the stage in Canberra today to call for the introduction of meaningful, evidence-based alcohol policy reforms.

A vocal proponent of effective measures to tackle the growing alcohol toll in his home state, the Commissioner will deliver the keynote address at the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) Forum at Parliament House, increasing pressure on Federal Government and Opposition parties to declare their intentions before the 2013 Election.

Frustrated by a culture of binge drinking in WA that is estimated to cost the WA Police tens of millions of dollars each year, Commissioner O’Callaghan says policing alone will not fix what has become a national crisis.

“Binge drinking and alcohol fuelled violence has reached epidemic proportions and the time for band-aid solutions is well past. The WA police cannot arrest their way out of this problem and nor can any police force in the nation. Governments, both State and Commonwealth, need to stop treating the symptoms and commit to treating the cause,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.

Commissioner O’Callaghan is particularly concerned with the way in which alcohol is marketed to young people.

“The marketing and promotion of alcohol normalises and glamorises alcohol in the eyes of our children. We know that children are being assailed by dangerous levels of alcohol advertising and we know that the more they are exposed, the more they are likely to drink,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.

The Commissioner’s speech will take direct aim at the issue of alcohol advertising in sport.

“Key players in the sporting industry are not interested in addressing this issue and continue to ignore the dangers of exposing children to alcohol advertising,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.

Commissioner O’Callaghan says the lack of an effective Government response is all the more frustrating, in the full knowledge that there exist proven, evidence-based measures to tackle the problem.

Those measures will be further highlighted when NAAA presents its 2013 Federal Election Policy Statement, Healthier Families, Safer Communities, at Wednesday’s forum.

Speaking ahead of the launch of NAAA’s five point plan to prevent alcohol-related harm in Australia, NAAA Co Chair, Todd Harper says that while the size of the problem is vast, much of the alcohol harms are actually preventable.

“There is already ample scientific evidence and expertise to guide what needs to be done in preventing alcohol-related harm,” Mr Harper said.

Today’s forum will provide an opportunity for the major parties to argue their alcohol policy positions ahead of the 2013 election, with Senator Richard Di Natale, Greens Health Spokesperson, the Hon Mark Butler, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and Dr Andrew Southcott, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Healthcare participating in a panel discussion facilitated by Paul Bongiorno, Network Ten’s National Affairs Editor.

Commissioner O’Callaghan and Todd Harper are available for interview

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson 0425 559 710

NAAA is a new national coalition of health and community organisations from across Australia that has been formed with the goal of reducing alcohol-related harm. Currently comprising major organisations with an interest in alcohol and public health, the formation of NAAA represents the first time such a broad-based alliance has come together to pool their collective expertise around what needs to be done to address Australia’s drinking problems. NAAA aims to put forward evidence-based solutions with a strong emphasis on action.

Action on labelling welcomed by the NAAA

The NAAA has joined with health groups across Australia to welcome the announcement of further government moves towards regulating warning labels on alcohol, following the meeting of the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation which is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, the Hon Shayne Neumann MP. The communique from the Forum included the following announcement regarding labeling:

In December 2011, Food Regulation Ministers agreed to provide the alcohol industry a two-year period to adopt voluntary initiatives to place pregnancy warnings on labels of alcohol products.

Food Regulation Ministers noted that a project to evaluate action taken by the alcohol industry in Australia in placing pregnancy warnings on alcohol products will commence shortly. The independent evaluation will be conducted in three stages. During the first stage the evaluation framework will be developed in consultation with stakeholders. The second stage will include an analysis of industry initiatives and economic impacts, with a quantitative analysis of the labelling initiative planned for stage three.

New Zealand will also be undertaking an evaluation of the New Zealand industry’s voluntary labelling initiatives.

Interim and final reports will be provided to Food Regulation Ministers in December 2013 and March 2014 respectively. While it was agreed to await the outcome of the independent review, Food Regulation Ministers have asked FSANZ to provide advice on the steps that would be required to regulate and have agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting as soon as the review report becomes available.

Global action to protect public health activities from the alcohol industry

The NAAA encourages individuals and organisations to endorse a united response from the global health community regarding concerns about the role of the alcohol industry in the implementation of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol.

On 8 October 2012, thirteen of world’s largest alcohol producers issued a set of commitments to reduce the harmful use of alcohol worldwide. The commitments were issued in support of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. However, in a public letter to the WHO Director General, an independent coalition of public health professionals, health scientists and NGO representatives have expressed major reservations about these commitments made by alcohol producers, including:

  • The commitments are based on questionable assumptions;
  • The actions proposed in the commitments are weak, rarely evidence-based and are unlikely to reduce harmful alcohol use;
  • Prior initiatives advanced by the alcohol industry as contributions to the WHO Global Strategy have major limitations from a public health perspective; and
  • The signatories are misrepresenting their roles with respect to the implementation of the WHO Global Strategy.

Given the above, the coalition has proposed a united response from the global health community, by asking qualified professionals throughout the world to review the coalition’s Statement of Concern, and indicate their endorsement by sending an email to the office of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance. All NAAA members are encouraged to carefully review the Statement of Concern and consider providing individual or organisational endorsement.

To indicate your endorsement, send an email to the office of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) at gapa@ias.org.uk. Please give the following details: Full name; Professional title; Institution affiliation; Country. In providing these details you will be agreeing to have your name listed (but not your email address) on both the public letter to WHO and the GAPA website that will post the letter. Please note endorsement will be on an individual basis and will not imply endorsement by your organisation. However, if you are a member of an organisation that would be willing to formally endorse this Statement, please indicate this in your reply. We urge all signatories to disseminate this information within their organisations and encourage them to support the recommendations described in the Statement of Concern.

Alliance of health groups support Operation Unite: A Blitz on Drunken Violence

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) is supporting the collaboration by police from Australia and New Zealand to conduct the cross-jurisdictional initiative, Operation Unite – a Blitz on Drunken Violence, this weekend (7–9 December 2012).

“Operation Unite is a rallying call for the nation,” said Professor Mike Daube Co-Chair of the NAAA and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. “The infatuation with drinking to get drunk and poor decision making fuelled with alcohol can result in tragedies not only for drinkers but for innocent victims. Police and hospital resources are stretched intolerably by the need to deal with alcohol-caused injuries and violent behaviour. Police, health bodies, and the wider community need to work together to reduce the impacts of alcohol-related harm.”

More than one-quarter (28.7 per cent) of Australian adults report being victims of alcohol-related incidents ranging from verbal abuse to being put in fear of physical abuse. Alcohol is a major cause of deaths on Australian roads and the trend has been increasing over the past decade. Most Australians (83.2 per cent) support stricter enforcement of laws against serving drunk customers.

Operation Unite demonstrates the united determination of police to challenge alcohol misuse, crime, violence and anti-social behaviour. Police are using this weekend as an opportunity to highlight the risk of injury, assault and violence associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

“As we enter the festive season, Operation Unite sends a timely wake-up call to the community to think about their behaviour when out drinking and consider the consequences long after the night is over. We can all play a part in creating change,” said Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria.

“An important part of achieving change in our harmful drinking culture is implementing effective prevention strategies,” said Mr Harper.

Mr Harper said the international scientific evidence shows that the most effective ways to reduce hazardous drinking and alcohol injuries and diseases in the population are by restricting the physical availability of alcohol through reducing opening hours and numbers of outlets, and increasing the price of alcohol through policies such as volumetric taxation and minimum pricing.