In Global perspective by Clyde Mooney

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Research revealing the changing face of Australia’s love affair with a drink has been overshadowed by the call for a global ban on alcohol advertising, with Aussie doctors jumping on the wagon.

UK-based global market research firm YouGov looked into the habits of Australian drinkers, finding beer continues to hold a narrow lead over wine, with 27 per cent of people tipping it as their favourite, versus 25 per cent for grape. Spirits came in not far behind at 21 per cent.

There were clear preferences between age groups and gender, with 32 per cent of women choosing wine, and 40 per cent of men choosing beer. Cider is the preferred drop for 21 per cent of 18-24-year-olds, against just 3 per cent for people aged 55-65 years. Spirits were the preference with 29 per cent of the older demographics, versus only 16 per cent of the youth bracket.

Meanwhile, social sciences journal Addiction published around the same time a collection of 12 studies involving 35,000 people across several countries. Each championed a “significant association” between adolescent exposure to alcohol marketing and subsequent drinking behaviour.

The studies make particular mention of consumer habits in developing nations such as Brazil, and the apparent ineffectiveness of self-regulation measures in many countries.

Addiction focuses on a range of science and socio-political contributors to the broad topic of ‘addiction’ primarily “in the areas of psychoactive substance use and/or gambling”.

While the organisation notes in its ‘instructions to authors’ it will not usually publish authors with “a specific conflict of interest” to their chosen topic, it does take the calculable stance on the use of the stimulants as being about lack of self-control by the user.

Consequently, its conclusions were nothing short of calls for a global ban on the marketing of alcohol.

“The most effective response to alcohol marketing is likely to be a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in accordance with each country’s constitution or constitutional principles.”

This prompted a group of Australian doctors to call on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to ban alcohol companies sponsoring sport, noting the recent VB ODIs against Pakistan.

“We’re overdue for a national conversation to discuss how big brewers are using sport as a channel to market their product, leaving our children as the collateral damage,” Dr Sarah Dalton from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) told the ABC.

“It is happening in too many Australian sports and it needs to stop.”

But Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) has rubbished the claim, citing the latest stats from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, showing fewer underage people than ever drinking alcohol, and the percentage choosing to abstain increasing.

ABA director Fergus Taylor says what goes on around the world is not necessarily the case in nanny-state Australia, given “strict, independent” regulation through the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code, further State, National, Advertising and Outdoor media codes, and licensing authorities’ power to ban alcohol products for a range of perceived breaches – including inappropriate marketing to children.

“Underage drinking is in steady decline across the country and has been for some time,” said Taylor. “The fact that this decline has occurred during a period of increased alcohol advertising is a clear indication that regulations in place work, and work well.”

The ABA director also noted the work of Drinkwise, targeting known causes of underage drinking such as parental behaviour and peer group influence.

“Without question, continuing downward trends in underage drinking is an important national responsibility, requiring a combination of education and strict enforcement on underage sales, and the alcohol industry is committed to ensuring this continues to occur.”

Significantly, the YouGov research did find that youth were not the biggest drinking segment; 17 per cent of 45-54-year-olds admitted they drank every day, although 40 per cent of 18-24s admit their drinking has increased in the past year – meaning of course, 60 per cent drank the same or less.

But although 55 per cent of respondents across all ages said their specific choice of drink is based on taste, 18 per cent of 25-34-year-olds revealed the choice was based in the selection making them ‘feel cool’ and 10 per cent bluntly admitting the choice is based on simply getting drunk.