Alcohol and advertising

An interesting example of the hold that alcohol consumption has in Australian culture and the powerful factors at work in its promotion was seen in the “alcopops” tax issue in 2008.

What are “alcopops”?

Alcopop is a term used to describe certain flavored alcoholic drinks often also called RTDs (ready to drink). It is the term most often used by those who want tighter restricitons on the sale of alcohol, and those who argue that these drinks are especially appealing and marketed to teenagers. Alcopops are sweet, come in small bottles and contain between 4% and 7% alcohol. There are also stronger ones which are simply pre-mixed spirits which contain around 12% of alcohol.

A tax on Alcopops

On April 26th 2008, the Australian Government suddenly increased the tax on alcopops by 70%. It was intended that the $2 billion dollars the tax would raise would fund a preventative health programme to tackle binge drinking especially among teenage girls, as well as smoking, and issues of diet and exercise.  The tax meant that the price of alcopops would  increase up to $1.30 a bottle more than its current price, depending on the alcoholic content of the drink.

Why target alcopops?

Reporting on the new tax, an article in the Age claimed that teenage girls were very susceptible to risk from over consumption of alcopops.

The move comes as figures reveal alarmingly high levels of consumption of the popular mixes among teenage girls. Although alcohol consumption is declining across all age groups, teenage girls are at a far higher risk from binge drinking than their male peers, according to a new government study.

The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that despite a slight drop in the rate of teenage girls’ alcohol abuse, they are still more susceptible to harm from alcohol than teenage boys. The proportion of teenage girls putting themselves at risk of short-term alcohol-related harm at least monthly was 28.3%, down 1% from the most previous survey, published four years ago. The number of teenage boys putting themselves at risk dropped from 26% to 24.5%.

Girls aged 12 to 15 are now more than three times as likely as teenage boys of the same age to consume alcohol at least once a week. The survey found that 10.6% of teenage girls and 7% of teenage boys are drinking at levels regarded as having harmful long-term health effects (at least 15 standard drinks a week for females and 29 for males).

(Booze blitz: Alcopop tax lifted by 70%: Josh Gordon & Dan Harrison, April 27, 2008)

What happened to the tax?

Ultimately the tax on alcopops was defeated in the Senate by the vote of one Senator, Steve Fielding of the Family First Party. Senator Fielding voted against the tax because  the government refused his request that along with the tax there should be a ban on advertising alcohol on sporting programmes during family TV viewing hours. He gave the government three years to implement the ban. However the government rejected this condition saying that it was too complex an issue to deal with at that time. The defeat of the tax meant that the government had to return to distillers the $290 million it had collected in tax on the sale of RTDs, and as a result the over the counter sale of RTDs was quite drastically reduced.

Senator Fielding said that in its reluctance to ban alcohol advertising during sporting programmes the government had missed a key opportunity to break the link between alcohol and sport.

Activity: Discussion or debate.

  • RTDs are a huge part of young peoples’ culture in Australia especially among girls.
  • Australian young people engage too often in binge drinking.
  • Advertising promotes consumption of alcohol as part of a desirable lifestyle.
  • There is a strong link between televised sport and alcohol advertising.
  • Reports of high profile AFL players who have drug and alcohol additions can have the effect of glamorising this lifestyle.
  • While drugs and alcohol are both subtly and openly promoted in popular culture the addict is still despised.