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Toxic cocktails in AMA’s sights

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Night clubs and bars should be banned from selling potent cocktails of energy drinks mixed with spirits and alcohol sponsorship of sport should be phased out as part of efforts to reduce the huge personal and social toll caused by unhealthy drinking, according to the AMA.

Emergency physician and AMA Victoria President Dr Stephen Parnis told a National Alliance for Action on Alcohol forum at Parliament House that young lives were being blighted every day by the effects of alcohol, and action like prohibiting licensed venues from selling alcohol and energy drink mixes was urgently needed.

Dr Parnis told the forum that more than 70 per cent of teenagers between 14 and 19 years of age had consumed alcohol in the previous year – and more than a quarter regularly drank amounts that put their health at risk.

Around 15 per cent of all deaths among 15 to 24-year-olds were due to risky drinking, he said.

The forum also heard from West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callahgan, who launched a broadside at the nation’s drinking culture and the failure of politicians to take meaningful action to curb alcohol-related harm.

“Binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence has reached epidemic proportions, and the time for band-aid solutions is well past,” Mr O’Callahgan said. “The WA police cannot arrest their way out of this problem and nor can any police force in the nation. Governments need to stop treating the symptoms and commit to treating the cause.”

Dr Parnis said evidence of the extent of harm caused by alcohol was in, and it was now time for action.

“The medical profession believes that this debate is over,” he said. “The question is not what should be done, but will decision makers take the action the evidence compels them to take.”

While the AMA has not backed a lift in the legal drinking age to 21 years, Dr Parnis detailed a seven key measures the Association believes should immediately be adopted to help reduce the harm alcohol causes.

A principal recommendation from the AMA was to end anomalies in the tax regime that saw full-strength wine taxed at a quarter of the rate of mid-strength beer, and instead impose an excise based on the percentage volume of alcohol a drink contains.

“It is not a difficult concept,” Dr Parnis told the forum. “Putting tax at a higher rate will push prices higher and, hopefully, restrict availability. [Taxes] should be set at a level that sustains high prices, so that the price signal reflects the substantial social costs of alcohol consumption.”

The AMA has also demanded that the marketing of alcohol to children and adolescents, in all its forms, be prohibited.

Dr Parnis said alcohol brands were appearing on skateboards, children’s clothes and other products used and worn by young people, and were heavily promoted through sport and social media.

“The AMA believes that a phased reduction and, ultimately, elimination of alcohol sponsorships for sporting events must be on the table.”

Other proposed measures include tightening licensing regulations to take into account opening hours and the density of liquor outlets in a given area, prominent health warnings on alcohol packaging, mass media campaigns on the health risks of drinking, diversion programs for people who get into trouble for alcohol-related offences and greater support for the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Dr Parnis said experience showed the alcohol industry could not be relied upon to promote its products responsibly, and governments needed to act to protect children and adolescents from such marketing.

“We do not buy for one minute the alcohol industry’s statements that its marketing is targeted at adults,” he said. “They want people to drink as early as they can [in life]: ‘Let’s get them hooked; let’s get them to drink as much as they can’.

“The voluntary system of regulation [DrinkWise] is an absolute sham, and until we have meaningful, government-imposed regulation of alcohol advertising that is backed up by serious sanctions, we will not see progress in this area.”

The Alliance, of which the AMA is a member, has launched an election manifesto that calls for a national strategy to cut adult alcohol consumption by 10 per cent within 15 years.