A new report has exposed the Australian alcohol industry’s heavy reliance on risky drinkers, with over 3.8 million Aussies averaging more than four standard drinks of alcohol a day, twice the recommended health guidelines.
Targeted by the alcohol industry and branded ‘super consumers’, the industry’s best customers represent just 20 per cent of Australians aged 14 and above, yet they account for a staggering 74.2 per cent all the alcohol consumed as a nation each year.
Risky Business, a new report prepared by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), underlines how dependent Australia’s alcohol industry has become on ensuring its best customers continue to drink at dangerously high levels.
FARE modelling reveals that if the alcohol industry’s ‘super consumers’, the top 20 per cent of the population, reduced their consumption to within the guidelines, which recommend drinking no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related diseases and injury, then the total alcohol consumed in Australia would decrease by a staggering 39 per cent or 38 million litres of pure alcohol.
The findings, drawn from an analysis of the study Understanding recent trends in Australian alcohol consumption by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), also dismantle an industry narrative that relies on a decline in total annual alcohol consumption to falsely argue that Australians are drinking more moderately.
In actual fact, the decline in the amount of alcohol being consumed as a nation is masking alarming patterns of consumption in significant segments of the population.
Over 1.9 million Australians drink on average more than six standard drinks per day, three times the amount outlined in the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Just under a million Australians consume on average more than eight standard drinks per day, equivalent to more than four times the recommended guidelines.
FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn says as well as dispelling industry falsehoods regarding the extent of alcohol misuse, the report exposes the alcohol industry’s dirty little secret.
“The alcohol industry is totally dependent on risky drinking. This is its dirty little secret. It’s an industry built on identifying, targeting and exploiting its best customers, and ensuring that almost four million Australians continue to misuse and abuse alcohol and are responsible for nearly three quarters of all the alcohol consumed by the nation,” Mr Thorn said.
Mr Thorn says the alcohol industry’s economic dependence on risky drinkers explains, but does not excuse, its complete failure to encourage its customers to drink within the recommended health guidelines.
“The alcohol industry markets this vague, #ff0000 and unhelpful concept of ‘responsible drinking’ while all but ignoring the existence of the Australian drinking guidelines. Not because it might have a small impact on its bottom line, but because doing so would result in economic failure. If the industry’s best customers were to drink within the guidelines, the total alcohol consumed as a nation would be reduced by 39 per cent or more than 38 million litres of pure alcohol,” Mr Thorn said.
Mr Thorn says it is for this reason that public health researchers and advocates refrain from working with the alcohol industry due to irresolvable concerns regarding its commercial vested interest. He calls on government representatives to do the same, and exclude the industry from influencing alcohol policy, if Australia is serious about reducing alcohol harms and saving lives.