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.