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“Anti-Alcohol”?

“Anti-Alcohol”?

A favourite myth the alcohol Industry and its allies like to promote is that their critics are “anti-alcohol”.

This phrase pervades their documents.  Even those who may not be involved with the industry, but seem to support its approach, use this terminology. Recently, for example, in the Senate the Liberal Party’s Senator  Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, while apparently arguing that the Health Department and the Australian National Preventive Health Agency should take more advice about education from the alcohol industry,  said of me, “I will describe him broadly as an anti-alcohol activist”.

Around the world, “anti-alcohol” is a favoured phrase for the industry and its allies.

The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of those who express concern about the impact of alcohol or campaign for measures that will better protect our society in general and young people in particular are not “anti-alcohol”.  Our concern is about the harms caused by alcohol when inappropriately used, about the impacts of alcohol on health and the community, and about the devastation caused to those who drink, their families and innocent victims of harms caused when alcohol is used excessively or inappropriately.

Some people and organisations are no doubt opposed to all use of alcohol, but they are in a tiny minority.  They are not the figures generally calling for action, and certainly not those leading public health pressures for price policy, effective warnings, measures to ensure better controls on access, curbs on alcohol promotion or more government-funded public education.

Those who call for action are health professionals informed by the myriad damaging health consequences of alcohol, both acute and long term, law enforcement leaders such as police commissioners and police unions who tell us that up to 70% of the police operational budget goes to alcohol-caused incidents, and people and organisations working for the benefit of community at large and important vulnerable groups, whether disadvantaged communities such as the indigenous population, pregnant women or children and young people.

There is not a scintilla of evidence that the vast majority of these are “anti-alcohol”.  Indeed, most of us are at pains to emphasise that we are not against the moderate, sensible use of alcohol.  Most of us consume alcohol ourselves.  Most of us are on record, over and over again, as confirming that our concern is about the harms and consequences of inappropriate alcohol use, not about alcohol as a product or about normal, sensible alcohol use. Many of us enjoy the sensible and moderate use of alcohol.

And yet, the industry and its allies like to characterise us as “anti-alcohol” – knowing this to be untrue.

Why is this?

It is clearly in the interests of the alcohol industry to portray its critics as extremists, zealots and fanatics.  They want to give the impression that far from calling for reasonable measures that will curb the harms, those concerned about alcohol problems are prohibitionists, intent on smashing every available bottle of Grange Hermitage, and pouring all the best malt whiskies down the nearest available sink.  This turns debates on alcohol issues into Manichaean battles between the alcohol industry and evil extremists who are opposed to anything pleasurable.

“Anti-alcohol” also has a nice, easy ring about it – even if it is a cheap shot, wholly unjustified by the evidence.

But look out for more of the same.  The more effective we are, the more we keep making our case, the more the alcohol industry will resort to cheap shots. “Anti-alcohol” is probably just the start.

Mike Daube

Mike Daube

Professor Mike Daube is the Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. Declaration of interest: Mike Daube does not drink and drive. He does, however, enjoy malt whisky (about which he knows quite a lot) and white wine (about which he knows very little, other than that anything cold usually tastes good).

8 comments

  • The ANTI tag is often used by opponents.

    As the president of the Fremantle Society protecting the heritage of Fremantle in W.A. I am often accused of being anti-development, while in fact our 40 year old group is all for good,modern high quality, low rise buildings in our city.
    But it is just easier to dismiss concerned people as being anti something.

    Roel

  • I drink from time to time. I am a nurse. Daily I am shocked at the damage caused by alcohol misuse and over use; not just in those people wanting treatment for their dependence but in people who are unaware of the damage that alcohol is doing to their health.

  • Spot on. I enjoy a glass of red but, having worked in child protection and youth justice, I also have significant concerns about the links between excessive alcohol use and crime, alcohol and child abuse, binge drinking of young people and the role of alcohol in mental health, injuries and even deaths.

  • I have been involved in the education/counselling area of substance use for 33 years and it still intrigues me of when suggestion people modify the access to alcohol they throw up Al Capone and prohobition in the early 1990’s. Fair dinkum people should stop using this nonsense. Where talking about avaiability not prohobition.

  • You are probably labelled anti-alcohol because you support measures of dealing with alcohol abuse that don’t work yet impinge on moderate consumers enjoyment. “price policy, effective warnings, measures to ensure better controls on access, curbs on alcohol promotion” are all features of Nordic countries who have some of the highest binge-drinking rates in the world. If you were serious about addressing alcohol abuse, I’d be looking to sell a better set of policies

    • CanberraKId – Being told that these policies ‘don’t work’ is something that we hear more often than the ‘anti-alcohol’ tag. What I can’t understand is where people get this information from. We have to demonstrate the highest level of evidence for these policy measures. Let’s take pricing policies for example. Evidence shows that low alcohol prices result in higher consumption, including heavier drinking and underage drinking. A review of 112 peer reviewed studies found that Introducing pricing measure that increase the price of the cheapest alcohol products results in significant reductions in heavy consumption and harms. This is why people like the British PM David Cameron just announced that the UK will be introducing a legislated floor price for alcohol. If people don’t like the policy – that’s fine and we should have discussions about that. But lets not ignore the researchers that work tirelessly to produce such high levels of research.

  • I am anti-alcohol and the last thing I’m going to lose sleep over is being labelled an extremist by those with vested interests in the alcohol and related industries – including the industry’s lobbyists in Canberra. However, I’m also a realist and fully appreciate that extreme measures such as prohibition don’t work. What we need in Australia is the level of political commitment in dealing with alcohol that was achieved in relegating tobacco to its present pariah status. Personally I believe the harm inflicted on society by tobacco pales into insignificance when compared with the destructive effects of alcohol. So bring on every conceivable measure to make the stuff more difficult to obtain physically, increase prices dramatically, and introduce and enforce draconian laws in respect of supplying youngsters with alcohol. That would be a good start. We might want to follow up with a government funded analysis of alcohol, and to see how the results stack up against the country’s present laws on poisonous and killer substances. I dare say the results would shake the liquor industry to its very core, and would be a very potent lever in encouraging political action.

  • Accidents are only of the miseries caused by alcohol. One rarely discussed by very common is the mental degeneration caused by alcohol.

    There is a truth in the world – The history of alcohol is the history of ruin. It’s true.

    Here are some anti-alcohol songs:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvIi9gazTkw (“The Irish Anti-Drinking Song” from the album “Ireland”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zLNj-yzi04 (A modern rock song)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3Sv986wqVM (An acoustic blues number)

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