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.