‘You need look no further than this ad for Tooheys New to see why Australia has a nasty drinking problem. The ad features a street party with giant inflatable figures in happy bright colours and could easily be mistaken for a toy promotion - until the beer truck arrives'.
The industry’s self-regulatory Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code – is a joke. A recent study published in Drug and Alcohol Review in January searched 93 magazines popular with youth, two-thirds of which contained at least one alcohol ad or promotion (including one featuring skateboards). 51% of these items appeared to contravene at least one section of the code.
Voluntary regulation won’t work if firms have an intrinsic motivation to not enforce it. The industry emphasises flogging their drugs to kids because sustained growth in the alcoholic drinks market requires growing numbers of youth develop a taste for booze. Across age groups Australians are not drinking more. Moreover, youth are being successfully targeted by industry so their growth objective is being achieved through sweet-tasting alcopops and so forth that help youngsters graduate from soft-drinks to alcohol.
There are good theoretical foundations and abundant evidence that marketing booze to kids is very effective – US research suggests a complete ban on advertising booze could reduce teenage drinking by 25% and binge drinking by 42%. Moreover, there is evidence alcohol causes specific brain damage in youth. A blanket ban on advertising to youth is justified and industry self-regulation will not work.
Governments must intervene. Real leadership from Mr Howard and Mr Rudd (or a cooperative agreement!) would see them both agree to take on the liquor industry to reduce hazardous levels of drinking among youth.