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Alcohol and tax — time for real reform

Alcohol tax reform would reduce harm and costs — and could fund major prevention and treatment programs

Australia’s first comprehensive report on drugs was entitled Drug problems in Australia — an intoxicated society? This 1977 report from the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare noted that alcohol “now constitutes a problem of epidemic proportions”. The Committee concluded that, given the extent of the problem, “any failure by governments or individuals to acknowledge that a major problem — and potential national disaster — is upon us would constitute gross irresponsibility”.1

Many of the report’s recommendations are as valid now as they were four decades ago, particularly in relation to alcohol advertising (including the “appeal to sportsmen and sportswomen throughout Australia not to lend their names and prestige to the promotion of alcoholic beverages”), effective controls on availability of alcohol, and use of pricing mechanisms to reduce alcohol use and harm.

It has become increasingly clear that in dealing with harm from alcohol, price matters. There is now an overwhelming consensus from leading Australian and international health authorities and researchers that alcohol taxation is one of the most effective policy interventions to reduce problems related to alcohol.2