The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s annual alcohol poll has some great news about Australians’ consumption of alcohol — and bad news for the public health hysterics hell-bent on portraying Australia as in the grip of the demon drink.

Sold as “a comprehensive picture of the nation’s relationship with alcohol”, the poll’s contents are deeply at odds with the message of alcohol apocalypse from FARE and other public health lobby groups.

Let’s go through some of the results from the survey, and then compare them with the rhetoric. Much of the survey is given over to what people think about alcohol. The only empirically useful stuff, however, is what they reveal about their own behaviour.

First of all, incidence of drinking in Australia continues to fall. 77% of Australians say they drink, down from 81% last year, and 84% the previous year, although FARE described last year’s three-point fall as “stable”, so presumably this year’s three-point fall is “stable” as well. Some 31% (compared with 30% last year) of Australians said they had reduced their drinking or given up in the last year, while 11% said they had increased their consumption, the same as 2012. Some 73% of Australians drink two days a week or less. There’s also been a small rise in the proportion of Australians who are comfortable with the amount of alcohol they consume, to 71%. Only 21% of Australians believe alcohol is their biggest health threat, well behind poor diet (31%) and behind lack of exercise (23%) and equal to tobacco. They’re far more likely to think “illicit drugs” are the most harmful drug (47%) compared with alcohol (31%).

But what about young people? The poll reveals Generation Y are more likely to consume alcohol than baby boomers, but if you compare the results with previous years (FARE fails to point it out), the number of Generation Ys who don’t drink at all has gone from 16% last year to 21% this year, a big rise.

The results stand in stark contrast to the rhetoric of FARE and other public health lobbyists that Australia is in the grip of an alcoholic crisis and, even if the overall level of alcohol consumption isn’t increasing, specific sub-groups, like young people or women, are drinking more, and that the social costs of alcohol use are a massive economic burden. Efforts to target specific demographics as being particularly at risk have been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and FARE’s own polling data confirms it yet again.

And while FARE refuses to reveal the questions on which the survey is based, the report is shot through with the public health lobby’s particular tactics in trying to demonise alcohol. In line with the new tactic of attacking the traditional and widespread behaviour of drinking before going out — or “pre-loading”, as it is termed in an effort to suggest it is some sort of aberrant behaviour — the report reveals that 57% of people consume alcohol before going out, and that people who drink to get drunk are more likely to “pre-load”. On the other hand, inconveniently for FARE, more than half of people who “pre-load” actually drink less while out as a result — which is actually the point of this “outrageous” behaviour, since it saves money.

And as part of the push to ban drinking at school functions such as fetes, the report has a section on how many parents drink in front of children (under 18), discovering that 79% of people with kids do so, probably because it’s hard to have a glass of wine over dinner without your family seeing. And as part of the push for a minimum alcohol price, there was a question on whether people buy more alcohol when it’s on special, revealing that the majority of drinkers don’t respond to price by buying more.

FARE, however, was eager to note that 75% of people believe Australia has a problem with excess drinking, 78% believe that that problem will get worse over the next decade, and 74% believe more needs to be done to reduce harm — although all three of those indicators have fallen a point since last year.

What the results indicate is that Australians believe the constant rhetoric from the public health lobby that alcohol is a major social problem, but their own behaviour actually demonstrates that most Australians drink in moderation, and are continuing to drink less, even the much-demonised Generation Y.

The reality of most Australians’ drinking — that it’s in moderation, and declining — is an inconvenient truth that is constantly downplayed by the public health industry and the anti-alcohol lobby. Instead, the industry constantly varies its tactics, straining the data to conjure up new problems — if it’s not young people, it’s women, or it’s social media use, or it’s parents “normalising” alcohol by drinking in front of children, or it’s “pre-loading”, or it’s the confected “social costs” of alcohol that run into the tens of billions of dollars a year.