In a win for both the Western Australian community and public health advocates, the WA Government has recently announced they will follow through with an election commitment to remove alcohol advertising from Perth public transport vehicles. Trains are already alcohol ad-free, while alcohol advertising on Transperth buses will cease in 2019.
The WA Government deserves to be congratulated for taking this strong action to protect children from alcohol advertising. It’s in line with recommendations from leading health organisations, including the World Health Organization, to minimise children and young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing as part of the comprehensive approach needed to reduce harm from alcohol. It’s supported by strong evidence that shows the more alcohol ads young people are exposed to, the more likely they are to start drinking and drink more if they’re already drinking.
We know that children and young people in WA are regularly exposed to alcohol ads on public transport-related sites. Since its launch in 2012, the Alcohol Advertising Review Board has received 63 complaints about alcohol ads on WA buses, while a recent study published by myself and colleagues from Curtin University found that unhealthy products, including alcohol, are heavily promoted on bus stops. We audited every bus stop within 500m of schools and kindergartens in five local government areas in Perth in 2016 and 2017. Of the 293 ads recorded over this period, less than 1% were classified as being healthy, and 31% featured unhealthy products. Alcohol ads accounted for 12% of the unhealthy products advertised.
Young people are frequent users of public transport, and you’d think there would be rules in place to prevent them from being targeted by alcohol ads when they travel to and from school. But the self-regulatory alcohol advertising system in Australia places only one restriction on outdoor alcohol advertising – alcohol ads cannot be placed on a fixed sign within 150m of a school gate (public transport vehicles and taxis are exempt).
As bus stops come under local government authority, we will continue to encourage all local governments in WA to work towards removing alcohol ads from their bus stops. We must also remember that the Federal Government has arguably the most important role to play when it comes to alcohol marketing regulation. The self-regulatory system in Australia has proved time and time again that it is unable to effectively regulate its own marketing. In order to protect children and young people from the mountains of alcohol ads they see every day, the Federal Government must step in and replace the self-regulatory system with strong, independent, legislated controls on all forms of alcohol marketing.
While there is still work to be done to strengthen alcohol marketing regulation in Australia, we need to acknowledge the leadership by WA Health Minister Roger Cook and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti in removing alcohol ads from public transport vehicles. WA has joined South Australia and the ACT in putting children’s wellbeing before alcohol industry profits. The question is, which state government will be next? And when will the Federal Government step up and support the state-level action by introducing independent controls on alcohol marketing? Only time will tell. Until then, we will continue to push for action – and take the time to commend those politicians brave enough to take it.