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Alcohol kills 15 a day – study


The number of Australians killed or hospitalised because of alcohol consumption has jumped in the last decade, with a new study showing that alcohol causes 15 deaths and hospitalises 430 Australians every day.

Confirmation of alcohol’s heavy toll on health has come as the AMA proceeds with preparations for a National Summit on alcohol-related harm as part of efforts to tackle the nation’s drinking problem.

The AMA plans to bring together health practitioners, policy experts, politicians and community representatives to discuss the harm being caused by alcohol and develop strategies to ameliorate the problem.

The big rise in the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses attributed to alcohol has reinforced calls for the nation to re-think its drinking culture and for governments to do more to curb drinking, including increasing taxation, imposing earlier pub and club closing times, and toughening restrictions on alcohol advertising.

AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis last month stepped up calls for a ban on alcohol ads and promotions during live sports broadcasts amid evidence that industry self-regulation had failed and young people were being exposed to a significant volume of messages promoting drinking.

Launching the second annual report of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board in July, Dr Parnis said it was clear that many major alcohol companies were ignoring concerns young people were being heavily exposed to alcohol marketing and promotion, and could not be relied on their own to act responsibly.

During 2013-14 the Review Board, established by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and chaired by renowned child health researcher Professor Fiona Stanley, received 209 complaints about alcohol advertising and promotion, 86 of which were upheld in full, and a further 44 upheld in part.

Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) was the most common and consistent source of complaints – accounting for almost 20 per cent of all complaints lodged in the past two years – earning it the dubious distinction of being the first recipient of the Worst Offender Award “for exposing children and young people to extensive alcohol advertising of AFL, NRL and cricket, and for attracting the most complaints to the AARB”.

The Alcohol’s Burden of Disease in Australia report, released by VicHealth and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), shows that 5554 deaths, a 62 per cent jump from 2000, and 157,132 hospitalisations were caused by alcohol in 2010.

Of the 5554 deaths attributable to alcohol in 2010, 3467 were men and 2087 women.

For men, injuries accounted for more than one in three (36 per cent) of alcohol-related deaths, while cancer and digestive diseases caused 25 and 16 per cent, respectively, of alcohol-related deaths. For women, one in three alcohol-related deaths was due to heart disease (34 per cent), followed by cancers (31 per cent) and injuries (12 per cent).

The report, conducted by Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, found that people living in the Northern Territory were three times more likely to die from alcohol use than other Australians.

Victoria had the lowest proportion of deaths attributable to alcohol for both men and women.

Dr Belinda Lloyd, Head of Population Health Research at Turning Point, said the report clearly showed that the long term effects of alcohol aren’t just confined to one Saturday night.

“It is clear that there are both short term and long term harms associated with risky consumption, and we are seeing increasing death, disability, health service burden and social impacts of alcohol across Australia,” she said.

FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn said Australian governments can no longer ignore the urgent need for decisive and effective action to reduce the rising toll.

“A decade ago alcohol was responsible for 3430 deaths per year. Now that figure stands at 5 554. Governments can’t afford to wait another 10 years to act. Only decisive, evidence-based action will stem Australia’s worsening alcohol toll,” he said.

Mr Thorn said population-wide measures that address the price, promotion and availability of alcohol would not only save lives but also deliver significant financial savings to cash-strapped governments.

“Alcohol tax reforms, the introduction of earlier closing times and sensible restrictions on alcohol advertising and promotions will not just save lives and reduce the unacceptable level of alcohol harms, it will also reduce the $36 billion dollar burden those harms represent, a burden carried by the entire Australian community.”

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said the study highlighted the social impact of alcohol in Australia.

“We live in a society where getting drunk at many social and sporting events is seen as a normal activity. It’s no wonder the harm is increasing,” Ms Rechter said.

“VicHealth believes our culture of heavy drinking needs to be challenged. We want to work towards a society where excessive drinking isn’t seen as acceptable or normal activity.”

Debra Vermeer