Industry responds to misleading poll claims

10 May, 2019 by Andy Young

Both Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) and the Brewers Association (BA) have dismissed a poll of just 1800 people which claimed that Australia’s drinking culture is out of control.

Both associations have pointed to official Australian Government data and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey, with a sample size of almost 24,000, which shows more Australians than ever are drinking alcohol responsibly and in moderation.

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The ABA said: “The most recent survey by the AIHW, a Commonwealth statutory authority, shows that over the last 10 years there has been a marked improvement in Australia’s drinking habits. But there is more to be done.

“Eighty-four per cent of Australians now enjoy their favourite alcoholic beverages responsibly and in moderation. However, it is important we remain focused on coordinated efforts to target at-risk groups and their behaviour.

“Targeted solutions will only be effective by working in a whole-of-society approach, where alignment on evidence-based options can be achieved. We want to work with and support government and NGOs to continue to reduce alcohol harm and misuse while promoting responsible consumption by adults who choose to enjoy alcohol products in moderation.

“A critical first step is a proper analysis on the underlying causes for the significant advancements that have been recorded over the past decade, to extend learnings to guide future strategies.”

BA CEO Brett Heffernan agreed, saying: “Significantly fewer people in Australia drink alcohol in quantities that exceed lifetime risk – down to 16 per cent in 2017-18 from 21 per cent in 2004. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Health Survey: First Results 2017-18, December 2018).

“By definition, that puts binge drinking at 16 per cent. Still too high but clearly tracking downwards, showing [this week’s] claims of high and increasing rates to be way off the mark.

“The ABS also reports that Australians today are drinking less alcohol than at any point in the last 55 years. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Apparent Consumption of Alcohol 2016-17, September 2018). In fact, we’re drinking around 30 per cent less alcohol today compared to the 1970s.”

He added: “Around 40 per cent of Australians consume alcohol weekly. Just six per cent drink daily – down from nine per cent in 2007. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016, September 2017).

“Eighty-two per cent of teens do not drink any alcohol at all. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016, September 2017). This is the highest abstinence rate on record and a dramatic improvement of the 54 per cent in 2004.

“In fact, teens are putting off trying a drink later than ever and, if they do try it, they are drinking less than ever.”

The ABA also pointed out that Australians are making informed decisions to drink less with 28.4 per cent of recent drinkers reducing the amount drunk per session and 28.8 per cent reducing the number of times they drank.

The association said: “The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that Australians are consuming less alcohol today than at any point in the last 55 years. The responsible consumption message is working.

“The industry is committed to targeted and evidence-based programs to tackle the social and cultural drivers leading some people to drink at excessive levels. Australia’s beer, wine and spirits producers are in lock-step with political efforts from all sides to continue to improve our drinking culture.”

Heffernan added: “No-one is saying there aren’t issues with alcohol. There are and more needs to be done to tackle the array of social and cultural drivers leading some people to drink at excessive levels.

“But the over-hyped and alarmist claims bandied around [this week] simply do not stack up to scrutiny. They are a far cry from reality. They also do Australians, who have clearly heeded the responsible consumption message, no favours in misrepresenting them.”