WA police chief calls for new alcohol laws, while AARB report says self-regulation has failed

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th June 2013

Western Australian (WA) Commissioner of Police Karl O’Callaghan says alcohol advertising should be banned during sport broadcasts because they cause “far more harm” than betting promotion. The comments come after a new report found that self-regulation of alcohol advertising is “failing”.

New policy responses needed to address ‘alcohol toll’

A vocal proponent of effective measures to tackle the “growing alcohol toll” in WA, Commissioner O’Callaghan was delivering the keynote address at the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) Forum held today at Parliament House in Canberra.

“Binge drinking and alcohol fuelled violence has reached epidemic proportions and the time for band-aid solutions is well past,” said Commissioner O’Callaghan. “The WA police cannot arrest their way out of this problem and nor can any police force in the nation. Governments, both State and Commonwealth, need to stop treating the symptoms and commit to treating the cause,” he said.

Frustrated by “binge drinking culture” in WA that is estimated to cost the WA Police tens of millions of dollars each year, Commissioner O’Callaghan said he was particularly concerned with the way in which alcohol is marketed to young people.

“The marketing and promotion of alcohol normalises and glamorises alcohol in the eyes of our children,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said. “We know that children are being assailed by dangerous levels of alcohol advertising and we know that the more they are exposed, the more they are likely to drink,” he said.

Alcohol advertising in sport

The Commissioner’s speech took direct aim at the issue of alcohol advertising in relation to sport.

“Key players in the sporting industry are not interested in addressing this issue and continue to ignore the dangers of exposing children to alcohol advertising,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.

NAAA Forum

Today in Canberra the NAAA Forum gave politicians from all parties an opportunity to argue their alcohol policy positions ahead of the 2013 election, with Senator Richard Di Natale, Greens Health Spokesperson, Mark Butler, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and Dr Andrew Southcott, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Healthcare participating in a panel discussion facilitated by Paul Bongiorno, National Affairs Editor for broadcaster Network Ten.

AARB Report released

The WA Police Commissioner’s keynote address comes soon after the first annual report of the independent Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) found that self-regulation of alcohol advertising is “failing”, that “irresponsible alcohol promotions are common” and that “young people are heavily exposed to alcohol advertising”. The report says “there is an urgent need for regulation on alcohol promotion”.

The AARB is a Western Australian-based body that was established by the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and the Cancer Council Western Australia with support from other health organisations in Western Australia. The Board is chaired by leading child health advocate, Professor Fiona Stanley AC.

AARB Report highlights

During its first year of operation, the AARB said it received 200 complaints (compared with 98 received in 2012 by the alcohol and advertising industries’ voluntary self-regulatory system). There were 104 determinations of upheld complaints fully, and 32 that upheld complaints in part.

The AARB report lists what it called the “Top 10 alcohol advertising shockers of 2012-12” as:

  • examples of exposure to young people through sports sponsorship
  • advertisements outside a school;
  • Jim Beam Racing Kids Team clothing that the AARB said is designed “for four-year-olds”
  • “targeting of young people through music festivals”
  • “cheap alcohol” promotions by liquor retailers
  • product packaging “likely to appeal to young people”
  • “disguised” advertising in sporting commentary
  • “promotion of excessive alcohol consumption”

The report also includes a “Weekend in the life of a child” investigations, with examples of how many times Australian children could be exposed to alcohol advertising over one weekend.

“The impact of the creativity shown by the alcohol industry in promoting its products is shocking and concerning,” said Professor Fiona Stanley, Head of the AARB.

AARB calls for government action

The AARB report said self-regulation has “failed” and that “regulatory action from governments is necessary”.

“There are promotions that will appeal to children, even products that appear to be designed and promoted for young people, and advertisements placed where children will be exposed. Our children and young people should not be exposed to so much alcohol promotion both directly and through sports sponsorship and online promotion. It is time for governments to act,” Professor Stanley said.

“Self-regulation by the alcohol and advertising industries is a dismal failure,” said Professor Mike Daube, Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. “Eighty per cent of alcohol consumed by Australian young people aged 14 to 24 is consumed in ways that put the drinker’s and others’ health at risk,” he said.

“We know that the alcohol industry will claim that its self-regulatory system works: this report shows that they are wrong. It is time for governments to legislate, rather than leaving the protection of children and young people from alcohol harms in the hands of those whose job it is to sell as much as possible of the product,” Professor Daube said.

Support grows for government policy action

Several health campaigners and marketing experts have supported the call for a “more effective” model of regulation.

“We urgently need effective curbs on alcohol marketing,” said Dr Stephen Parnis, Australian Medical Association Federal Executive Member. “The time has come for real regulation, established by government and backed by sanctions for serious non-compliance,” he said.

Simone Pettigrew, Professor of Marketing at the University of Western Australia said that the alcohol industry invests “many millions of dollars in promotions that access very large numbers of children and blatantly use advertising themes that appeal to children”.

“Their approach has been highly successful in encouraging young people to start drinking early and to drink to dangerous levels,” Professor Pettigrew said. “The outcomes of the AARB in just its first year of existence demonstrate the extent of concern among the Australian public and indicated support for higher levels of monitoring of alcohol promotion,” she said.

The AARB said its report has been sent to all Health Ministers and Federal Members of Parliament. A copy of the report is publicly available at www.alcoholadreview.com.au.