JACKIE HALLAM: Statistics open our eyes to the damage excessive alcohol consumption can do to society.
IT’S that time of year when people tend to indulge in all the festivities that the holiday period brings, including drinking alcohol.
More often than not conversations around alcohol use tend to focus on what individuals can do to reduce harm.
This usually conjures up an image of messy drunken scenes at the end of a long night.
But there’s a different way of looking at the alcohol problem, and it’s one that asks how the person got so drunk in the first place.
In doing so, we put the spotlight on the hospitality and alcohol industry while also drawing attention to how alcohol is promoted in the community more generally.
But before we go there, what do the statistics say?
Approximately 95,000 Tasmanians run the risk of developing longer term harm from alcohol (this may mean developing a chronic illness such as cancer) and 144,000 run the risk of injury from a single occasion of drinking.
In 2016-17, police recorded 232 public place assaults involving alcohol.
That’s more than one public place assault every two days.
In the same time period, there were 2187 drivers charged with exceeding the alcohol limit or driving under the influence.
I could go on but I’m sure most readers know someone or have been personally involved in an incident related to excessive alcohol use.
Let’s face it, most people drink alcohol to have a good time, however most people don’t drink alcohol to vomit or get in a fight or just to feel really bad the next day.
There’s so much we can do to make sure the drinking environment does not encourage excessive drinking and there’s two key measures we can do to limit alcohol-related harm.
Firstly, there is regulating the availability of alcohol.
This involves paying attention to the numbers of retailers and the shopfront locations.
Retailers includes bottle shops, clubs and pubs, basically anywhere that makes alcohol available to the public.
The link between increased retail outlet density and increased consumption levels, which consequently increases harm in the community, is well established.
There has been a 22 per cent increase in liquor licenses issued in Tasmania in the past decade. It is also about where the retailers are situated — are they next to schools and other family friendly venues?
With our eye still on the retailers, we can also monitor the extent of heavy price discounting, more frequent or extended “happy hours”, “all you can drink” offers, or increased promotional competitions and giveaways, all of which are likely to increase consumption levels and therefore increase the risk of alcohol-related harm.
We can also look at trading hours.
Extended trading hours contributes to higher levels of late-night assaults and disorder, something that none of us want to see.
Then there’s the promotion and visibility of alcohol generally.
Those who have examined this in depth have found that exposure to alcohol advertising negatively impacts the drinking behaviours and attitudes of our youth.
Those who have greater exposure to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking earlier, and binge drink.
Once you’ve made this connection then advertising that seems innocent during the Boxing Day Test suddenly become a little bit off colour.
In 2017, rules were introduced to restrict advertising to children, however these are arguably weak when we look at advertising in the real world.
Unfortunately, children are exposed to a lot of alcohol advertising that isn’t directed at them.
So turning to where you live, how many retail outlets are in your local area?
Do you think they are appropriately placed?
Now it may come as a surprise but the advertising of alcohol is managed by the alcohol industry.
Are they effective regulators? Is this problem serious enough that the government should step in to restrict advertising? How many alcohol advertisements will your children see between the ages of 2 and 18 as they mature to adulthood?
Compare the ubiquitous imagery of people enjoying alcohol to the reality of a messy teenage drunk and we get a fuller understanding of the disconnect between the images and what they lead to.
Usually around the holiday period we are told to take care of ourselves and look after each other, but this is only one part of the answer.
These holidays we invite you to look around your immediate environment and ask if we can do better.
Do we need to take back control from the alcohol industry and implement policies designed to limit the damage done?
The key institution that can act on this is government — after all they are the ones with our tax dollars and the only ones that can implement policies to make the community safer.
Have a safe holiday period and don’t get into too much strife.