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.

Political courage and all party support to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has called on all political parties to show courage and support recommendations contained in the report FASD: The Hidden Harm, tabled in federal parliament yesterday.

The report is the result of an inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

The NAAA strongly supports the Committee’s recommendations to prevent FASD including new public awareness campaigns, health advisory labels, a review of the availability and pricing of alcohol, and a review of alcohol marketing regulations.

“Action on this entirely preventable condition must be a priority for the whole community and for all parties. We urge the Parliament to show courage in supporting these important and bold recommendations for a comprehensive approach that must aim to eliminate FASD in Australia,” said Professor Mike Daube Co-Chair of the NAAA and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.

“The Committee has rightly highlighted the need to increase awareness among women, health workers, and the wider community about the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.  Equally important will be the development of effective prevention strategies through a review of the impacts of the pricing and availability of alcohol, and current regulations to respond to alcohol marketing,” said Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria.

“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,” said Mr Harper.

Mr Todd Harper said the NAAA welcomed the Committee’s call for government to develop a National Alcohol Sales Reform Plan aimed at reducing the harms caused by alcohol consumption across Australia.

The NAAA has also backed the call for a National Plan of Action for the prevention, diagnosis and management of FASD to be completed by 1 June 2013.

New campaign: Alcohol. Think Again

Many parents are concerned about alcohol and the impact that it can have on their child. For under 18’s, no alcohol is the safest choice. A new campaign has been developed to give parents and young people important information and tools to make informed choices about delaying initiation to alcohol use.

The Parents, Young People and Alcohol Campaign is a joint initiative of the Drug and Alcohol Office (DAO), the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth (MCAAY) and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (TICHR). The project has been part-funded by Healthway Health Promotion grant funding.

Government must now act on dangerously cheap alcohol to save lives

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has welcomed the call from the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) for alcohol tax reform.

The NAAA supports ANPHA’s conclusion that Australia’s current alcohol taxation system contributes to social and health problems, “the current operation of the Wine Equalisation Tax is of concern”, and the tax on wine requires urgent reappraisal and reform. The NAAA has called on the government to base its tax policy on the interests of the public health, not the wine industry.

“While alcohol continues to be sold cheaper than bottled water there will be far too many entirely preventable deaths and injuries in Australia from hazardous drinking,” said Professor Mike Daube Co-Chair of the NAAA and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.

“International scientific evidence consistently shows that alcohol consumption and harm are influenced by price. Taxation is one of the most effective policy interventions to reduce the harms related to alcohol consumption, including mortality rates, crime and road accidents, and to discourage young people from drinking,” he said.

Todd Harper, Co-Chair of the NAAA and CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said “the way that alcohol is currently taxed helps to sustain alcohol related harms by making it cheap and easy for people to drink excessively, putting themselves at risk of both short-term injuries and long-term chronic diseases.”

Alcohol is a known cause of cancer and it is estimated that 5,070 cases of cancer (or 5% of all cancers) are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.

More than a fifth (20.4%) of Australians aged 14+ years drink at risky levels at least once a month [1]. Among young people the situation is particularly alarming, with rates of ‘extreme risky drinking’ (20+ standard drinks per occasion) increasing from 26% in 2002 to 42% in a recent survey [2].

“From a public health and economic perspective, the current alcohol taxation regime in Australia is significantly flawed. There are enormous inconsistencies in the way different alcohol products are taxed; products are not consistently taxed according to their alcohol content level, nor their propensity to cause harm,” Mr Harper said.

The NAAA, which is comprised of more than 70 health and community organisations from around Australia has developed the following principles for reform of alcohol taxation with the primary objective of reducing harm and promoting a safer drinking culture:

  1. Taxation of alcohol should be based on the principle that alcohol is no ordinary commodity. It is a product responsible for major harms in our community.
  2. Alcohol taxation is one of the most effective ways to reduce alcohol consumption and associated harms-and is especially effective if part of a broad-based health strategy.
  3. The approach to alcohol taxation should be volumetric, with tax increasing for products with higher alcohol volumes.
  4. The alcohol taxation system should have the capacity to target alcohol products deemed to be of higher risk, or creating additional harms in the community.
  5. There should be an overall increase in alcohol taxation.
  6. The real price of alcohol should increase over time.
  7. Changes to tax should not be designed to produce a decrease in price for alcohol products, other than for low alcohol products.
  8. To complement volumetric tax on alcohol, there is also a need to regulate the minimum price (or floor price) of alcohol products.
  9. A proportion of alcohol taxation revenue should be hypothecated to prevent and reduce alcohol-caused harm in the community.

“We must act now. It would be irresponsible for the Australian Government to delay action on reforming Australia’s alcohol taxation system any longer,” said Mr Harper.

Bathurst 1000 V8 Supercar sponsors are driving kids to drink

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) today raised concerns about the prominence of alcohol marketing and sponsorship for this weekend’s Bathurst 1000 V8 Supercar event.

The Bathurst race is a popular annual event for Australian families that attracts big crowds to Bathurst and is broadcast to a huge television audience nationally and internationally.

Professor Mike Daube, NAAA Co-Chair and Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, said the race generates massive exposure of alcohol promotion to young people.

“NAAA urges the organisers of the event to review future sponsorship arrangements to ensure the race projects a safer and more family-friendly image,” Professor Daube said.

“The event has become a strong vehicle for alcohol and alcohol-branded promotional gear,” Professor Daube said.

“Alcohol is being promoted to children in a glorified way – fun, outdoors, sporty.

“There is also the very dangerous association of fast cars and drinking alcohol.  A quarter of fatal car crashes involve a driver with a blood alcohol level over the limit.

“The event includes two Jack Daniels Racing cars, two Jim Beam Racing cars and one Bottle-O Racing Team car.

“And it is especially disturbing that the V8 website promotes Jim Beam Racing clothing in kids’ sizes.”

AMA Vice President, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said it is time to close the loophole that permits the promotion of alcohol during sporting events on daytime television.

“We saw it last week with the AFL and NRL Grand Finals and we will see it again this weekend with the Bathurst 1000,” Professor Dobb said.

“These are traditional iconic family events on the Australian sporting calendar and alcohol companies are getting easy access to millions of people, including children, to promote and market their products.

“The alcohol industry is being allowed to reach vulnerable young people and send them messages that alcohol is associated with all that is best in sport and that alcohol is closely linked to driving fast cars.

“This alcohol marketing fuels pro-drinking attitudes in children and young people.  It persuades them that alcohol products and brands are attractive, glamorous and risk-free.  It perpetuates the dangerous myth that motor sports and alcohol go together.

“Doctors see the horrific injuries – and deaths – that result from motor accidents involving young drivers speeding while under the influence of alcohol.

“These dangerous messages have to stop.

“There is a loophole in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.  It must be closed,” Professor Dobb said.

NAAA is aware that the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) has already had complaints about alcohol sponsorship of motor racing teams.

The AMA last month hosted a National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young People.  The Communiqué from the Summit is at http://ama.com.au/media/communique-national-summit-alcohol-marketing-young-people

The AMA also released a report, Alcohol Marketing and Young People: Time for a new policy agenda.

NAAA is a national coalition of health and community organisations from across Australia that was formed with the goal of reducing alcohol-related harm. Currently comprising more than 70 major organisations  with an interest in alcohol and public health, NAAA is a broad-based alliance that pools collective expertise around what needs to be done to address Australia’s drinking problems. NAAA puts forward evidence-based solutions with a strong emphasis on action.