In the United States last week the
Journal Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine published a study putting
sales by the alcohol industry to under age drinkers at $US22.5 billion a year.
That figure – equal to 17.5% of total American alcohol sales – led the study to
conclude that “the alcohol industry is not a good candidate to regulate its own
marketing and sales practices.”

About the same time in
Australia the
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Christopher Pyne,
announced a $5 million grant of taxpayers money to encourage Australians to
drink responsibly. The recipient of the grant was a group called DrinkWise
Australia.

And just what is DrinkWise
Australia? “An independent, self-governing organisation”, said Mr Pyne,
“established by the alcohol beverages sector to focus on promoting responsible
drinking.”

The US study – Estimate of the
Commercial Value of Underage Drinking and Adult Abusive and Dependent Drinking
to the Alcohol Industry – found the combined value of illegal underage
drinking and adult pathological drinking to the industry was at least $US48.3
billion.

This equalled 37.5% of consumer
expenditures for alcohol, in 2001. Alternative estimates suggest that these
costs may be closer to $US62.9 billion, or 48.8% of consumer expenditures for
alcohol.

The authors
concluded:

With at least 37.5% of sales linked
to underage drinking and adult abusive and dependent drinking, the alcohol
industry has a compelling financial motive to attempt to maintain or increase
rates of underage drinking.

Alcohol advertisements in magazines,
for example, expose youth aged 12 to 20 years to 45% more beer advertisements
and 27% more advertisements for distilled spirits than adults of legal drinking
age.

The same pattern of overexposure of
children relative to adults with advertisements for beer and distilled spirits
also can be seen in radio and television advertising. Furthermore, exposure of
children and teens to magazine and television alcohol advertisements has
increased, even more so for girls than boys, despite national reports calling
for limits on advertising by the alcohol industry to children and teens younger
than 21 years.

Allegations that the alcohol
industry profits from unfair and deceptive marketing practices aimed at underage
drinkers to assure this flow of profits is the subject of several lawsuits filed
against the alcohol industry.

The financial interests of the
alcohol industry appear to be antithetic to the public health interests of the
nation in preventing and limiting pathological drinking. The public health
implications of this research are two-fold.

First, because of this apparent
conflict of interest, the alcohol industry is not a good candidate to regulate
its own marketing and sales practices, particularly as they relate to underage
drinking.

Second, the fact that 25.9% of
underage drinkers (12.2% of youth aged 12-20 years) already met DSM-IV criteria
for abusive and dependent drinking underscores the critical importance of
comprehensive prevention strategies and treatment options tailored to the needs
of teens.

In his remarks Mr Pyne said the
money handed over to DrinkWise Australia gives the Government an opportunity to
work with the alcohol industry and the Australian community to raise awareness
about the harms associated with alcohol misuse and encourage the responsible use
of alcohol.

Foster’s is one of three foundation
sponsors of DrinkWise.

Stephen Millar, former President and
CEO of Constellation Wines, the world’s largest wine company, member of the
Australian Wine Research Institute Board, Executive Council Member of the
Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) is a Director.

Peter Fray

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