Drink Tank

Why free beer is bad news

“For everyone ready to get on with the job of making Australia a better place, it’s our shout.” So reads the tagline of a self-titled VB National Event which is a poorly veiled beer giveaway.

Many Australian media outlets have been quick to celebrate VB’s free beer promotion, hailing it as the perfect post-election tonic and cure.

But why have our media been reduced to a hype-man for the alcohol industry, running headlines such as Good news: There’s free beer! and regurgitating pro-VB text from the Victoria Bitter  ‘age-gated’ website to pad out their articles?

You don’t have to dig far to realise if you are truly determined to work hard and make Australia a better place, then you’re best off steering clear of alcohol.

There may be no better example of this than the late Bob Hawke. Although revered for his drinking, the man allegedly never touched a drop in all his time as Prime Minister.

When he was ousted from office by Paul Keating in 1991, Bob Hawke made a point of stating the drink he would drown his sorrows in would be non-alcoholic.  

“If this was 11 years ago, I’d be getting pretty thoroughly drunk but fortunately for me and even more fortunately for others that is 11 years ago, and the only beer that will be passing my lips will be the totally non-alcoholic variety,” he said.

Normalising alcohol in Australia

The fact that a beer promotion is so casually passed off as news is a stark reminder of how normalised alcohol is in Australia.

Missing from the headlines of VB’s free beer giveaway is the bad news: Australia has a serious drinking problem.

A recent global survey found Australia to be the fourth drunkest nation in the world behind only the UK, US, and Canada.

Alarmingly, FARE’s Annual Alcohol Poll revealed that most Australians have no idea what the recommended health guidelines are around drinking alcohol and most describe themselves as responsible drinkers despite regularly drinking to get drunk.

We need to understand as a nation that the amount of alcohol we drink is well above other countries and much higher that where it needs to be. And the harm related to this level of consumption is far too high.

Alcohol is no ordinary commodity

Promoting alcohol is not as innocent as promoting, say, a bar of soap, because alcohol is no ordinary commodity. Rather, alcohol is a disease-causing drug that kills people – nearly six thousand every year in this country.  

Yet, alcohol is one of the most heavily promoted products in the world.

I suspect this era of alcohol marketing will one day be looked upon as cringingly as cigarette marketing of the past.  

These days it’s hard to fathom there was once a time when doctors would appear in adverts telling you which cigarette brand is healthier for you to smoke.

But like tobacco, alcohol is a group-1 carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer at the highest rate possible. In fact, recent research discovered that drinking a bottle of wine is akin to smoking ten cigarettes for women, and five for men.

How would we react to the news headline Good news: Free cigarettes!?

We no longer accept tobacco marketing because smoking kills. So we shouldn’t accept the plethora of alcohol advertising when we now know the harm that drinking also causes.

Nothing from the alcohol industry is for free

If you’ve been following the alcohol industry closely, you’ll know they have no regard for the wellbeing of people and they do nothing for free.

This is the industry that calls struggling alcoholics their ‘super consumers’, and devises strategies to ensure that people who are slowly killing themselves with alcohol keep on drinking.

The same industry who asked to take on the enormous responsibility of informing Australians about the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant to save children from being born with a lifelong disability. Yet seven years later only a pathetic 48% of alcohol products carry pregnancy warning labels.

And the same industry who use and abuse a loophole in the Free TV code that allows them to show alcohol ads during children’s television viewing hours while sport is broadcast – an exemption they’ve carefully engineered through lobbying and political donations.  This is allowed despite alcohol being the major contributor to the three leading causes of death in young people – suicide, homicide, and unintentional injury.

For the alcohol industry it’s about profits over people at any cost.

Time to stop the promotions

Make no mistake, this latest publicity stunt by the world’s biggest brewer AB InBev does not emanate from the goodness of their commercial heart. They are not giving beer away for their stated altruistic reasons and obviously expect a return from their investment. 

The entire premise of alcohol marketing and promotion is contrary to community standards – it’s all about increasing sales.

So while the promise of some free beer seems innocent enough, the reality is that it’s far more sinister.

We are calling for all states and territories to prohibit promotions that perpetuate the normalisation of alcohol.

Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

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