Judging by the article he penned in yesterday’s Crikey — “Alcohol industry needs to cut the cr-p on alcopops” — it would appear we’ve upset Geoff Munro.

We agree with Geoff that binge drinking is a scourge on the community. We also agree that the way people drink needs to change and we want to be part of the solution.

Geoff Munro’s claim yesterday that Independent Distillers Australia’s inclusion of the National Drug Strategy Household Survey in our Senate submission (which showed beer, wine and spirits were listed as being consumed in risky and high risk quantities but, very significantly, RTDs were not) was “accurate but misleading” has me stumped. The NDSH Survey was unequivocal. We did not mislead, we simply quoted the Survey’s findings.

Similarly, Geoff’s point that we somehow misused the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s numbers is ridiculous. The AIHW itself — on the front page of its Senate submission no less — says that “given the stable prevalence of risky drinking, and the lack of any clear trend regarding preferences for RTDs, the increased availability of RTDs does not appear to have directly contributed to an increase in risky alcohol consumption.” I would think that too was pretty unequivocal.

Our argument against the Rudd Government’s specific excise increase on RTDs is that it has not been done for the reasons Kevin Rudd himself claimed. The increase is a simple cash grab. It’s got nothing to do with health policy. Given the evidence emerging on substitution into higher alcohol and cheaper products, the risk to health will be increased.

It’s common sense that if you increase the cost of a six pack of RTDs, you push consumers toward a less expensive product. It’s what the industry calls “substitution”. Our concern, and the concern of the wider health community, is that people are more likely to buy a $30 700ml bottle of straight spirits with about 20 standard drinks or a four-litre cask of wine with 32 standard drinks for $10 instead of a six pack of RTDs with nine standard drinks for $27.

That this type of substitution is occurring is borne out by the latest industry statistics from the Liquor Merchant Association of Australia (LMAA) which shows movement in wholesale sales of the major spirit and RTD categories from May 2007 to May 2008. Vodka RTDs were down 32%, while straight vodka was up 43%. Rum RTDs were down 16%, while straight rum sales increased by an astonishing 139%.

Like many of Geoff Munro’s colleagues in the health lobby, IDA believes the answer lies with the introduction of a volumetric tax which, in its simplest form, means products are taxed based on their alcohol content. Should the Senate reject the Rudd excise increase on RTDs, it would be doing so because the excise increase does nothing to improve the health of Australians. It’s a Government cash grab, plain and simple. Volumetric tax is the way forward here — for both tax policy and health policy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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