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Nation needs to tackle “appalling” alcohol toll

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The Government’s principal drugs policy adviser has called for tax hikes, restricted pub opening hours and a debate on raising the minimum drinking age to tackle the “appalling” damage being inflicted by alcohol abuse.

The Australian National Council on Drugs has released an Alcohol Action Plan detailing the steps governments and the community urgently need to take to reduce the harm being caused by alcohol.

Council Chair and former Howard Government Minister Dr John Herron said the enormous number of deaths, injuries, illness and psychological harm linked to alcohol could no longer be tolerated.

“The level of alcohol-related damage occurring in our communities is simply appalling,” Dr Herron said. “The health, social and economic costs associated with alcohol use simply cannot be allowed to continue at the current level.”

To illustrate his concerns, the Council cited research showing that 20 per cent of people drink at levels that put them at risk of lifelong harm from injury or disease, 8 per cent report having been the victim of alcohol-related assault, and that hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption costs the country $15.3 billion a year.

The Council said it was particularly concerned about the extent of drinking among younger people, with evidence that 60 per cent of children aged between 12 and 17 years reported drinking alcohol in the past year.

Illustrating the scale of harm caused by alcohol among the young, research cited by the Council showed 22 per cent of all hospitalisations of young people, and 13 per cent of deaths, were attributable to alcohol. More than half of all alcohol-related road accident injuries involve people aged between 15 and 24 years, as do almost a third of all hospitalisations for injuries suffered during alcohol-fuelled physical assaults.

Dr Herron said Australia had an entrenched culture of drinking and intoxication, and it was time to put aside the usual objections to tighter restrictions on the availability and promotion of alcohol.

“Whenever we speak of culture change, the industries that profit most from this culture run the same old fear campaign of a nanny state takeover,” he said. “Seatbelts, random breath tests and gun laws do not represent a nanny state, and nor do sensible alcohol policies and programs.”

In its Action Plan, the Council calls for an informed debate on raising the minimum legal drinking age, urges state and local governments to take into account public health and safety considerations when considering liquor licensing laws and applications, and asks the Federal Government to reconsider proposals for the introduction of a volumetric tax on alcohol, which would push up the price of wine.

“No single response to alcohol will be sufficient,” the Council said, adding that this was why it had identified eight “comprehensive and overlapping” areas for action.

Adrian Rollins  

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