Drink Tank

Reflections on the FARE Annual Alcohol Poll

The FARE 2014 Annual Alcohol Poll was launched on 26 March at Parliament House, Canberra. The poll, conducted by Galaxy Research, examines what Australians drink and what they think about alcohol. Now in its fifth year, the poll has once again highlighted the nation’s growing concerns about alcohol harms and their mixed feelings and complex relationship with alcohol. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Steve Hambleton reflected on the poll findings at the launch.

 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

The annual FARE Alcohol Poll provides a unique and valuable insight into Australians’ attitudes and behaviours regarding drinking.

A lot of the Poll’s findings are not available from other national surveys and sources.  So, there is a place for this Poll in Australian research and policy development.

The AMA has a strong history of advocacy and awareness-raising about harmful alcohol use.

Over the years, the AMA has been tackling Australia’s deeply entrenched culture of drinking.

We send strong messages through the media. We lobby our politicians at both the Federal and State level. And we inform the community with policy and publications that are freely available on our website.

We shine a bright light on the harms of Australia’s drinking culture, and advocate for change.

Just recently, we called for a National Summit on alcohol harms.

We have the support of the medical profession and the public health sector.

We have public support. The NSW Premier is with us.

Last week I discussed the idea in person with the Prime Minister.

While he does not support the Summit – not yet, anyway – he is very conscious of the alcohol harms debate and has assured us he will be raising it at COAG.

The FARE Poll is another strong weapon in the advocacy armoury to combat alcohol abuse and harms.

The Poll does provides a valuable an insight into the drinking culture that pervades Australian society. It highlights people’s drinking behaviours and what attitudes drive the behaviours.

But, importantly, it also highlights what others’ views are about those behaviours and their beliefs about how Australia’s drinking culture can be addressed.

As a practising doctor and head of an organisation representing Australia’s medical professionals, I am particularly concerned by some of the results of the Poll.

For example,

  • the fact that one in six drinkers consume more than 6 standards drinks on a typical drinking occasion;
  • the fact that one-quarter of Australian drinkers felt they were unable to stop drinking once they started; and
  •  that one fifth of drinkers could not fully remember what had happened the night before.

These findings suggest that there are very high rates of alcohol dependency out there, which would remain hidden without this Poll.

Coupled with this, the Poll also shows that Australians have a low awareness of the health impacts of alcohol use, including cancers and stroke. It shows that very few have any idea about the Australian alcohol consumption guidelines.

It is not surprising that more than a third of Australians have been affected by alcohol-related violence. It is not surprising that nearly three-quarters of the adult population have been negatively affected by someone else’s drinking in some way, including through property damage and physical abuse.

And it is not surprising that nearly four-fifths of Australians believe that Australia has a problem of alcohol abuse.

What supports and drives this culture of excess alcohol use? What feeds it and keeps it alive?

This is no great mystery – the affordability, availability, and advertising of alcohol.

Alcohol, if that’s just what you want, can be purchased very cheaply. That puts alcohol well within everyone’s reach, especially young people.

Alcohol is just about everywhere. There are licensed premises and sellers within easy travelling distance to us all. Positive and glamorous images and messages about alcohol are also just about everywhere, thanks to the ubiquitous advertising and marketing of alcohol.

The AMA believes that the promotion and advertising of alcohol is a particularly strong and pervasive influence on the culture of drinking, especially in a way that recruits young people and sustains the culture.

  • The FARE Poll shows that the AMA isn’t alone in this view. For example:
    nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of Australians believe that alcohol advertising influences the behaviour of people under 18 years; and
  • 22 per cent of Australians have noticed alcohol advertising or promotion on social media – an increase from 14 per cent in 2013.

And we all know what age demographic most uses social media.

The AMA believes that:

  • advertising and promotion of alcohol to young people should be prohibited through appropriate government regulation, not left to ‘voluntary’ industry self-regulation, and
  • alcohol sponsorship of sporting events should be phased out.

Again, the AMA is completely in step with community views on alcohol advertising.

The FARE Poll shows that:

  • 67 per cent of Australians support a ban on alcohol advertising on weekdays and weekends before 8.30pm, and
  • 55 per cent believe that alcohol sponsorship should not be allowed at sporting events, which is an increase from 47 per cent in 2013.

This 2014 Poll is alerting us to some important information about what’s happening out there regarding excess alcohol consumption, and what the attitudes are.

Unfortunately, it says that three-quarters of Australians are not optimistic, and believe that alcohol-related problems in Australia will just get worse.

We are here today with the decision-makers and the agitators who can make a difference to this pessimism.

We have an obligation to the Australian community to make good use of the intelligence that the 2014 FARE Poll gives us.

We have an obligation to start making the policy and regulatory decisions needed to change our harmful drinking culture.

I commend the 2014 FARE Poll to you.

 

Read the FARE Annual Alcohol Poll.

 

Steve Hambleton

Steve Hambleton

Dr Steve Hambleton was elected Federal President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in May 2011. Dr Hambleton graduated from the University of Queensland in 1984 and commenced full-time general practice in Queensland in 1987. He has been working at the same general practice at Kedron in Brisbane since 1988. Dr Hambleton was President of AMA Queensland and an AMA Federal Councillor. He served on the AMA Council of General Practice at a State and Federal level for more than 10 years. Dr Hambleton was the AMA representative on the National Immunisation Committee from 2006-2010, and was a member of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee for two years until 2009. He has been a member of the AMA Taskforce on Indigenous Health since 2006 and is currently the Chair of the Taskforce.

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