It's only fair to share…

The first Sunday in September is Fathers day in Australia. As you would expect, in the lead up there are many ads for a variety of products that Dad might like. Many play on the “not socks again “ theme to suggest that the product being advertised would be more suitable.

Not being much of a home handyman I do not get excited when hardware chains advertise the perfect fathers day gift as being some sort of electric tool. Fishing and boating gear does not work for me either.

One present that would go down well is a bottle good of wine. Now to be honest, my small cellar, is reasonably well stocked at present so I don’t need any this year. However I am sure there are many Dads out there who would appreciate a bottle of good wine or perhaps their favourite whiskey.

With that in mind it is hardly surprising that liquor merchants run fathers day promotions. One large Australian chain has run a campaign of “Buy Dad what he really wants this Fathers Day”. Under this banner are fairly pricey suggestions including a 1996 Grange Hermitage for $1600, 25-year-old Glenlivit for $420, or Krug Champagne for $1100. I suspect not too many of these will be purchased but other offerings of wines in the $15 to $50 bracket may well find there way into gift-wrapping.

Not a major issue you would think. Apparently it is to the West Australian Parliaments’ education and health standing committee who find that the campaign “targeted children” and implied “fatherhood is synonymous with booze”. The committee chairperson told the Weekend West she was “appalled by the insidious marketing”. Some academic was quoted as saying the campaign “normalised’” alcohol for children.

Really? For starters wine catalogues are hardly going to be read by children and even if they were it will be up to Mum or some other adult to decide and make the purchase-obviously!

More to the point though normalizing responsible use of alcohol is exactly what we need. The gift of an expensive (or relatively so) bottle is far removed from the get drunk on cheap booze, and drinking to “get wasted” approach to alcohol that is the problem in society. The moderate consumption of a glass of wine or two with dinner or after dinner spirit is indeed quite normal.

In fact moderate consumption of wine has some health benefits as I have written previously. Many European cultures understand that moderate consumption of wine can have a positive socializing effect without the antisocial effects we see in Anglo-Saxon countries. This comes from teaching their children about responsible consumption rather than just preaching prohibition.

Interestingly, in the same paper was the story of a Perth teenager whose regular binge drinking and wild behaviour at age 16 had somehow led her to appear on a reality TV show called Worlds strictest parents. The teenager went to Sweden for a week and with the application of rules and discipline and the enforcement of no drinking has been able to change her life.

Let me repeat that. The problem was not exposure to advertising, lack of warnings on labels or lack of spending by government; it was lack of enforced rules and discipline.

What happens in the future to this girl will be a function of the choices she continues to make. A week on “reality TV” may make a short-term difference but can be long term if she applies the lessons. Apparently she now has a job and a purpose in her life. The opportunity to drink excessively remains but she now chooses not to.

And it is worth re-emphasizing this was achieved through the simple application of rules and discipline not expensive government funded programs run by academics. Neither was reading a fathers day catalogue the cause of her initial problem.

Alcohol, like fire or a knife is neither intrinsically good nor bad. What matters is how people choose to use it. A knife can cut your food or be used to stab someone. The knife is the same. Alcohol can be consumed as part of normal life and in absolutely safe quantities or can be consumed in excess and cause damage to the individual and others.

The problem is with certain people not the product. If we want to sort out the problems of alcohol use in society we need to focus on the people with the problem, not fathers day gift suggestions. But for politicians and academics, meaningless pontification is far more self-satisfying.