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.
“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.