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Is raising the drinking age good policy? Maybe this is the wrong question

Continuing the Croakey discussion (there have been several related posts below) about raising the drinking age and other issues in alcohol policy, Professor  Michael Good AO, has sent in the following contribution. He suggests that there may be better ways of reducing the grog toll.

He writes:

“Every year alcohol places approximately 80,000 Australians into hospital for alcohol-attributed injury and disease. Annually over 1500 people die on our roads and almost a third of these will occur as a result of high risk drinking.

One of my sons, a policeman, tells me that half of his work on the streets is related to alcohol. Every year alcohol costs the nation $10.8 billion in direct costs and a further $4.5 billion in indirect costs.

I strongly believe we must work together to lower the level of alcohol-related accidents, violence and illness. Statistics show young adults are at greatest risk, regularly drinking to the point of intoxication. However I do not consider raising the drinking age to be the answer.

How can an 18 year old be sent to war, be able purchase a home, get married and start a family – yet not be trusted to enjoy alcohol responsibly?

What is needed is a portfolio of approaches to target people who binge drink and put themselves and others at risk.

In my mind, a good place to start would be to increase the tax on alcohol overall.  There are more than 50 studies from around the world showing that when alcohol increases in price consumption is reduced. Taxes should also be used to encourage a change in drinking behaviour from full strength to low strength alcoholic drinks.

Advertising alcohol and any association of it with sport should be banned. Australian’s love their sport but all too often this is associated with excessive consumption of alcohol.

I also advocate the consideration for a zero blood alcohol limit for all drivers in an attempt to reduce the risk of alcohol related road fatalities.

Through individual, corporate and government action we have successfully curbed other vices.  Australia previously had a high smoking rate; now, we have the lowest in the industrialised world.  This came about following a concerted campaign of increased awareness, banning cigarette advertising, banning smoking in Government buildings, graphic package labelling and increased taxes.
I believe that with similar measures, Australia would see over time a dramatic trend toward less alcohol consumption. A great many families would be spared the grief and horror that can accompany the irresponsible consumption of alcohol.

Our goal, as a nation, should be to have the lowest per capita incidence of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths – in my opinion, nothing less is acceptable.”

• These are Professor Good’s personal views. He is not writing on behalf of any of the institutions or organisations with which he is associated.

Comments 3

  1. Bogdanovist says:

    I tend to agree, there are plenty of 30 year olds (and older) with very juvenile attitudes to alcohol consumption, so this issue is about the broader culture, not the cut off age.

    I’m not sure about the high tax option though, as higher prices seem to drive people to whatever is then the best bargain in terms of ethanol per dollar. This means you’re drinking something awful, which reinforces the idea that drinking alcohol is solely about intoxication, rather than being an enjoyable beverage, which in turn is the cause of binge drinking.

    I know there are vast cultural differences, but in Italy and France alcohol can be bought by 16 year olds (and the enforcement of this limit is pretty lax), is taxed at a low rate and does not require any kind of licence in order to sell or distribute. Yet the Italians and French do not have anything like the drinking problems that we have (of course they smoke like chimneys and drive like maniacs, but that’s another story).

    Having lived in Italy, the difference in the approach to alcohol is profound. Alcoholic drinks are consumed because they are enjoyable things to drink and the thought of ‘over drinking’ is looked at in disgust. Were a young man to vomit from drinking in front of his mates, it would be a mark against him for life. Drinking simply isn’t made a big deal of, it’s simply a part of life and the Anglo-Saxon idea of basing entire social events around its consumption (i.e. ‘getting on the piss’) is simply something Italians find difficult to comprehend.

    The real question here is how the culture and attitude to alcohol can be turned to something along those lines. More and more prohibition however seems to simply work in the opposite direction, making alcohol more and more an issue and encouraging ‘high ethanol value’ consumption of terrible tasting swill. I have no answers as to how to do this, but I think it’s the hard long term solution that ultimately would be more effective than the obvious and easy route of increased prohibition and tax.

  2. Simon Chapman says:

    I very much agree with you Michael on “raising the drinking age” flashing a very big “go back! You are going the wrong way” sign. Your question about how can a society deny access to alcohol to those it legally deems to be adults is the obvious and sensible retort.

    I agree too that there is much that can be done to denormalise the culture of drunkenness and about breaking the alcohol & sport nexus. Another bit of low hanging fruit is the Bundy Bear campaign. Would there be a 5 year old in Australia who couldn’t name Bundy, along with Humphrey and Paddington? Years ago in the US Camel cigarettes used the uber-cool Joe Camel in their advertising. This research
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1956101 blew it out of the water. Tiny kids recognised Joe at the same rate they recognised Mickey Mouse.

  3. Bruce Clark says:

    I have to agree with Michael that advertising, taxation and BAC legislation are probably the three most effective controls a government has on alcohol consumption. An indication of the effectiveness of any strategy is the degree of opposition put up by the industry. Why does the alcohol industry oppose taxation increases? Because they know it works. Why does the alcohol industry oppose advertising restrictions on prime time TV sports programs? Because they know it works. Why do they support broad based education campaigns? Because they know these do NOT work. By putting in a token effort, (eg.the small print “Drink Responsibly” at the bottom of a full page newspaper ad), they then wash their hands of the problem and blame the victim. There has not been a serious campaign to introduce 0 BAC as yet, but if it does come, listen to the screams. If the minimum age of 21 idea takes off, put on the ear muffs

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PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences