If the Australian Government is to achieve the stated goal of a 10 percent reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by 2028, some significant policy changes are needed, according to Hannah Pierce, Executive Officer for Alcohol Change Australia.
Below she outlines five evidence-based areas where the Government can take action to address the harms caused by alcohol.
Alcohol Change Australia, representing health and community organisations from across Australia, launched this week with the aim of preventing and reducing the harms caused by alcohol products.
Hannah Pierce writes:
Everyone should be able to live in communities that are safe and free from harm. Sadly, this opportunity is not afforded to many Australians who experience harms caused by alcohol.
The alcohol industry and its products fuel significant harm in our communities. New data shows the number of Australians seeking alcohol treatment services is at its highest in a decade, and there has been an increase in people reaching out for help with alcohol since the COVID pandemic in 2019-20. The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia found that alcohol-induced deaths have reached a 10-year peak.
We know that the more alcohol that is sold, the more the alcohol industry profits, and the more people in our communities experience harm. To keep people healthy and well, the Australian Government should take more responsibility for regulating alcohol products and introduce proven measures that reduce harms from alcohol products.
To help encourage change, this week sees the launch of Alcohol Change Australia, a group of health and community organisations from across Australia working together to improve the health and wellbeing of Australian individuals, families, and communities. Alcohol Change Australia works to prevent and reduce the harms caused by alcohol products.
Alcohol Change Australia was established following a review and restructure of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol and Youth. The former alliance was established over a decade ago, but the need for a coordinated approach to advocating for change hasn’t diminished.
Alcohol Change Australia brings together like-minded organisations to pool collective expertise around what needs to be done to prevent and reduce harms caused by alcohol in Australia. It will work to amplify the voices of its members by providing clear and consistent recommendations to government for evidence-based alcohol policies. It will also provide an avenue for sharing of resources and increase exchanges of information and shared learnings amongst members.
The evidence is clear when it comes to what works to prevent and reduce harm from alcohol. In our policy platform ‘Working together to prevent harm from alcohol in Australia: Opportunities for Action’, Alcohol Change Australia highlights five key, evidence-based areas where the Australian Government can take action to address the harms caused by alcohol.
1. Protect the community from alcohol marketing
Every Australian should be able to grow up and live in an environment that supports their health and wellbeing. Yet our community is constantly bombarded with promotions for alcohol. Alcohol companies advertise relentlessly through a wide range of media, using sophisticated technology to target people with marketing for their products.
The Australian Government can introduce higher standards for how the alcohol industry markets and sells its products. We need regulatory systems that ensure safe and healthy environments for everyone, especially for children and other Australians most at risk from harm.
2. Address cheap alcohol that fuels harm
To help keep our communities safe and well, people should be supported to buy products that promote their health, rather than harm it. Instead, people are encouraged to buy more alcohol by retailers who flood the community with very cheap alcohol.
Changes can be made to the current tax system to address the very cheap products that fuel alcohol harm. Action on price would put an end to the current situation where the products that causes the most harm are taxed the least.
3. Empower the community by raising awareness of alcohol harms
Australians have a right to know if the products they are using can cause them harm. However, many people in the community are not aware of the range and magnitude of the harms caused by alcoholic products, particularly when it comes to alcohol and cancer.
Empowering Australians with the knowledge that alcohol causes harm is an important part of a comprehensive approach to reducing harm from alcohol. We want to see the Australian Government invest in evidence-based, targeted, and ongoing campaigns and preventative programs that increase awareness of alcohol harms.
The introduction of a health warning label on all alcohol products that is mandated, standardised, and presents rotating health messages would also help raise awareness of the range of harms caused by alcohol.
4. Support alcohol-free pregnancies
Supporting people to have alcohol-free pregnancies is important for the health of both mum and baby. Alcohol consumed at any stage of pregnancy can damage a developing baby’s brain, body, and organs.
Continued implementation of both the National FASD Strategic Action Plan and the recommendations from the Senate Inquiry into FASD final report, alongside the introduction of mandated pregnancy health warning labels, are important measures that will raise awareness of the adverse consequences of alcohol use in pregnancy and help to prevent FASD.
5. Create healthy public policy free of industry influence
When developing health policies, the objective should always be to improve the health and wellbeing of the community. But in Australia, many commercial groups motivated to put profits before health can influence the development of alcohol policy.
The Australian Government can introduce measures that support the development of healthy public policy. These measures include reforming political donation laws to exclude donations from the alcohol industry; excluding alcohol companies, retailers, and their lobbyists from being involved in the development of public policy; and increasing transparency of interactions between the Australian Government and alcohol industry representatives.
Alcohol Change Australia is leading by example when it comes to addressing industry involvement in policy development. We do not receive any funding or support of any kind from the alcohol industry, or any organisations associated with the sale, distribution, or promotion of alcohol. Members of Alcohol Change Australia are not permitted to have a direct financial relationship with the alcohol industry.
We have recently seen some promising moves to address harms caused by alcohol, both in Australia and globally.
In May, a number of crossbench MPs came together to call for stronger regulation of harmful product marketing including gambling, junk food, alcohol and fossil fuels.
Also in May, Ireland passed legislation that would make it the first country in the world to implement health warning labels on all alcohol products. Mandatory in Ireland from 2026, the labels will warn the Irish community about the risks of drinking during pregnancy, as well as the risk of liver disease and fatal cancers from alcohol use.
In the National Alcohol Strategy, released in 2019, the Australian Government committed to a 10 percent reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by 2028. If we are to reach that goal, some significant policy changes are necessary.
Alcohol Change Australia will work to support and encourage national leadership on alcohol policy. We know what works to reduce harm – now all that is needed is action.
• Hannah Pierce is the Executive Officer for Alcohol Change Australia
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