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Alcohol marketing under fire as momentum for National Summit builds

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The AMA has urged immediate action to clamp down on alcohol advertising as momentum builds for a National Summit on alcohol abuse and the harm it causes.

The AMA said a report by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency showing young people were being exposed to unprecedented volumes of drink ads highlighted the failure of the existing industry self-regulation regime, which needed to be replaced by legislated, mandatory measures.

The draft ANPHA report Alcohol advertising: the effectiveness of current regulatory codes in addressing community concern, found that the proliferation of media and advertising channels, particularly through the recent emergence of digital media, meant that adolescents were being exposed to almost the same level of alcohol advertising as adults.

It cited a 2011 survey of 1113 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years which found the majority had been exposed to alcohol advertising through a range of media channels, including television (94 per cent), magazines (75 per cent), billboards and posters 61 per cent), the Internet (55 per cent) and newspapers (53 per cent).

It also found that around half of all television alcohol advertising occurs during live sports broadcasts, which are exempt from laws banning alcohol ads on television before 8.30pm. Such programs were found to have a significant child and adolescent audience.

Dr Hambleton said the study confirmed the findings of a 2012 AMA report which raised the alarm about the extensive marketing of alcohol to young people, including through social media.

The AMA President said the existing regulatory regime was badly flawed because it was voluntary, limited in scope, poorly enforced and without meaningful penalties for breaches.

“Ultimately, it fails to protect young people from continuous exposure to alcohol marketing,” he said, pointing to drink ads during live sports broadcasts as one of the most obviously failings of present arrangements.

The AMA has repeated its call for a parliamentary inquiry into alcohol advertising, and has urged the nation’s lawmakers to close the live sports loophole so that children are not exposed to drink ads while watching games.

Dr Hambleton there was an insidious association between sport and drinking that was being exploited by alcohol companies, and it had to end.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking that you need to have alcohol and sport together,” he said, adding that such exposure was linked to drinking in young people.

“There’s strong evidence that the more young people are exposed to alcohol over time, the earlier they start drinking, the more they drink, and the more alcohol-related harm they experience.”

The Australian Greens are pushing for the establishment of a Senate inquiry into the promotion of alcohol to children, and the AMA has urged the appointment of an independent, statutory regulator for alcohol marketing.

Research suggests the misuse of alcohol costs the community more than $15 billion a year, and a spate of violent and deadly assaults in major cities in recent months have focused attention on the nation’s drinking culture.

In late January, the AMA grabbed national attention with its call for a National Summit on alcohol – an initiative that has now been backed by the NSW Government.

In its response to a NSW parliamentary inquiry on alcohol, the O’Farrell Government endorsed the need for a national approach to tackling the effects of alcohol misuse.

“Alcohol abuse is an issue which transcends jurisdictional boundaries and warrants appropriate responses and co-ordination at both the State and National levels,” the NSW Government said, adding that it intended to discuss with its Federal counterpart “the best way to bring together governments to develop a national approach to alcohol policy issues”.

The initiative will get a further push this week when Dr Hambleton and AMA Secretary-General Anne Trimmer discuss the National Summit proposal directly with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Dr Hambleton said the AMA did not want a talkfest: “We want a Summit that is all about action”.

“The AMA wants a whole-of-government approach from all governments that looks at harm minimisation, the marketing of alcohol and how young people are exposed to this marketing, pricing and taxation, venue licensing and opening hours,” he said.

The NSW Government late last month introduced strict rules for licensed venues in the CBD, including 1.30am lock-outs and 3am last drinks, as well as 10pm closing time for bottle shops across the State.

So far, the Federal Government has been non-committal about action on alcohol, including changes to pricing, taxation and marketing rules, arguing that the states and territories had primary responsibility for community safety issues.

Despite this, the Government has jacked up the alcohol excise, adding almost 30 cents to the cost of a slab of full-strength beer, and pushing up the cost of a 700 millilitre bottle of spirits by 38 cents.

Adrian Rollins

 

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