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Police chief names the real culprits in alcohol-related offences

WA Police Commissioner Dr Karl O’Callaghan generated quite a few headlines with his keynote address to the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol’s recent Forum.

For those interested in more detail about his call for more effective regulation of alcohol marketing, below are his speaking notes, in which he names the companies that are responsible for so much harm.

****

Speech notes for WA Police Commissioner Dr Karl O’Callaghan

I am worried about young children and alcohol…I am worried about the messages we are sending them as a community.

I am worried about the way the alcohol industry targets young people, and unless we sort this out we have little hope of changing culture, and police have little choice but to devote 60% of their budget to these issues.

I have many concerns … but today I will focus on advertising.

Most here know that alcohol advertising in Australia is self-regulated by the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme, a voluntary scheme administered primarily by alcohol industry and advertising representatives.

In fact, it is so voluntary that many of the big corporates are not even signatories to it.  A classic one fingered salute from the industry.

One of the services the scheme offers is a proactive review of intended advertising and in a number of complaints I have made about the industry they lament they fact that had the ad been submitted for review before publication then it would have avoided complaint or breach.

The fact is that the industry thumbs its nose at the scheme in the hope that issues won’t be picked up.

In Western Australia the problem of industry self regulation has been identified as a major weakness in the current system and the McCusker Centre of Action on Alcohol and Youth and the Cancer Council of Western Australia have established an independent Alcohol Advertising Review Board.  It released its first Annual report last week.

The majority of the instances of concern raised with the industry by the AARB have met with no action and not even the courtesy of a reply or acknowledgement.

Concerns raised included advertising of alcohol on a phone booth outside of a school, using brands, brand colours and ‘alternative logos’ on kids clothing and a Facebook posting…“I wish I could trade my heart for another liver then I could drink more and care less…”

Naming the offenders

Who are the offenders…let me name them…

VB 
XXXX 
CUB 
Budweiser 
Jim Beam 
Smirnoff and
Thirsty Camel Liquor Stores…

We have no chance of solving our culture and police have no chance of making a difference unless we get on top of this.  It is one of the single most important things we can do.

For those of you who are rock music fans you might have heard of Coldplay.  At least if you don’t listen to them your kids probably will have.  They recorded a song called ‘Twisted Logic’ the chorus of which goes like this…

“You’ll go backwards but then you’ll go forwards again…you’ll go backwards but then you’ll go forwards…”

If ever there was a glaring example of ‘Twisted Logic’, it has to be alcohol advertising during live sport.  Wherever you look, there are examples of doublespeak, contradiction and…well…twisted logic.

Take the current debate about betting advertising during “Live” sport.  Clearly the public are concerned about it but even if we disregard opinion research, surely we must all agree that it is inherently a bad thing for the community.

It is simply commonsense or (let me put it another way) offends our sense of common decency.  We don’t need research to give us the answers.  It seems to me, however, that common decency and commonsense is time and time again overridden by the business dollar.

No one would doubt that the promotion of a gambling culture is not in the interests of our community and we ought to do something about it.

But no police officer has ever been assaulted on the streets because the perpetrator had a gambling addiction.  We can’t link 40% of all domestic violence to gambling.  We can’t link brain damage and high risk behaviour in our teenagers to gambling…we can’t link 30% of all fatal and serious crashes to a gambling addiction and we can’t link increases in the intensity of violence on our streets like one punch attacks to gambling…but we can link it to alcohol.

Sacrificing children to commercial profit

Our children are exposed to sustained alcohol advertising through live sport all year round…we are all aware of the problems it is causing in our young people and the propensity to (what I call) determined drunkenness…yet we are too concerned about commercial profit to do something about it.

I am not going to quote every body of research. There is a large body of evidence which shows that being exposed to alcohol marketing at an early age can shape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours towards drinking.

We know the more a child is exposed to alcohol marketing, the earlier they will initiate drinking, and will drink more in the long term.

But even if we discount the research because someone can always find an opposing finding…surely…like gambling advertising…it offends our sense of common decency to advertise to children.

What ever happened to making a decision based on what feels like the right thing to do?  Isn’t that how we bring up our children?

Research highlights how embedded alcohol marketing is in live football and rugby league broadcasts. Only 5% of the marketing identified was commercials in breaks, while 95% of the marketing was inserted within the live game such as fixed stadium signage, electronic banners, live announcements, pop-ups on scores, and logos on players’ uniforms.

What is concerning about the saturation of alcohol promotion in sport is the number of children watching live sport. The dominance of integrated alcohol marketing (such as on field signage, pop-ups, voiceovers) is of concern to me because it juxtaposes what is an essentially health and wholesome pastime that we encourage our children to develop an interest in against something which we are trying to shield our children from.

If you watch AFL, Rugby or Cricket, memorable sporting moments are occurring in front of on field alcohol signage or with advertising on clothing etc. Is this really what we want to imprint on our childrens’ minds?

When I raised this issue in an editorial I wrote for the West Australian, Carlton United Brewery suggested I was trying to prevent alcohol advertising to the ordinary ‘bloke’ who make up the bulk of the viewers of these sports.

It is interesting to me that they used the word ‘bloke’. In Australia a bloke is a unique masculine archetype associated with the country’s national identity. The ‘Aussie bloke’ has been portrayed in important works of art and associated with famous Australians.  The Alcohol industry is clearly using its product to integrate with our national identity.

But their claims about advertising to the Aussie Bloke belie the number of other watchers.  The 2012 AFL and NRL grand finals attracted 3.196 million and 2.424 million viewers respectively.

Both broadcasts are extremely popular with children; the AFL grand final for example, is often in the top 5 most watched television programs for children. The NRL grand final broadcast was the second highest rated program with children under 12, in the period 30 September – 20 October 2013.

Although alcohol consumption rates have levelled out, risky drinking in young people continues to rise, as the age of first drink continues to fall.

Childhood and adolescence are critical times for brain development, and the brain is more susceptible to alcohol-induced damage during these times; at the same time, children are particularly vulnerable to advertising messages, especially integrated advertising.

• Alcohol marketing was found to be ubiquitous across both the NRL and AFL finals series.

•  Over 18% of the entire broadcast of the NRL grand final match featured some form of alcohol marketing.

•  Within the Sydney Swans vs Collingwood Magpies match, 17.7% of the total broadcast time was devoted to various forms of alcohol marketing. Often this consisted of numerous alcohol advertisements/promotions within the same broadcasting screen shot.

•  Across the three NRL broadcasts, there was an average of 530 incidents and 30 minutes 40 seconds of marketing per match.

•  Across the three AFL broadcasts, there was an average of 244 incidents totalling 20 minutes of marketing per match.

Sensibly, the community has set limits around alcohol advertising on television.  Generally it cannot be advertised before 8.30pm at night and for good reason.

But we need to address the loophole in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice because currently alcohol advertising can be shown before 8:30pm on weekends and public holidays as an accompaniment to live sporting events.

This is problematic because these are times when children and young people may be exposed to advertising and sponsorship.

In both 2011 and 2012, a vast majority of people agreed that alcohol advertising and promotion influences the behaviours of young people and supported a ban on alcohol advertising on television on weekend and weekdays before 8.30pm. This consistent finding demonstrates that Australians are largely supportive of such measures.

The following research findings are ones that people here would be all too familiar with…

•  68% believe that alcohol advertising and promotions influence the behaviour of people under 18 years.

•  The vast majority of Australians (83%) indicate that they do not know how to make a complaint about alcohol advertising, while 17% of people surveyed suggested that they did know. However, when asked who they would direct a complaint to only 4% of Australians correctly identified the Advertising Standard Bureau.

•  64% of Australian adults support a ban on alcohol advertising on weekdays and weekends before 8.30pm, while 24% of people are opposed to the measure, and 12% are undecided.

Placement of alcohol sponsorship and advertising in large televised sporting events allows the alcohol industry to bypass regulations prohibiting alcohol advertising during times when large proportions of children may be watching television.

Another feature that attracts the alcohol industry is sport’s ability to evoke strong emotion and social identification. Products presented within these sporting contexts are more likely to be remembered, liked and chosen.

Pairing a healthy activity, such as sport, with an otherwise unhealthy product, such as alcohol or fast food, makes that product seem less unhealthy and more acceptable and normal. Many of us will remember tobacco advertising in sport, but I suspect that even smokers wouldn’t welcome that back.

Greater control over alcohol advertising is not, in itself the silver bullet but cultural change has to start a long way back from regulation and punishment.  I am not a health worker so I will not talk about its health effects but I can tell you a number of things about policing that will never be resolved unless we work upstream.

In our entertainment precincts, populated mostly by our younger people 90% of our responses are alcohol related during peak entertainment times.  Not only are the perpetrators of violence affected by alcohol, many of the victims are also and so injuries are far greater.

Nearly 50% of perpetrators of family violence are affected by alcohol…overseas research shows that nearly 40% of the victims are also affected.

The Drug Use Monitoring research conducted in our Watchouses identifies the last substance consumed by people in custody for committing an arrestable offence.  Nearly 80% of them identify alcohol and urine analysis supports this.

In one of FARE’s publications there is reference to a quote by Patrick Carlyon, Herald Sun journalist and author, 16 August 2012:

“Alcohol smashes families with swift and ugly swipes that steal innocence and perpetuate evils. Yet no one is suggesting it be plainly packaged, or that … TV ads be pulled, even though the damage caused by alcohol abuse is more violent and immediate than anything attributed to cigarette smoking.”

It is a good place for us to pause for reflection…

Dr Karl O’Callaghan

Photo credit:  Joseph Lafferty

• An edited extract of his speech is at the DrinkTank blog.

 ****

Further reading

On related themes, at The Conversation: Time to cut the ties between alcohol and sport, by Rob Donovan, Professor of Behavioural Research in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Social Marketing in the School of Marketing at Curtin University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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