It's only fair to share…

When trying to whip up fear and hysteria it is never a good idea to let facts get in the way. Per capita alcohol consumption in Australia has remained static for at least the last twenty years. Some people drink too much and this is a major cause of health and social problems. The vast majority of people who enjoy a drink do so in a responsible manner harming neither themselves nor others.

In teenagers the percentage of those who drink excessively has declined between 2001 and 2007 according to government figures. We may hear more news reports about violence associated with alcohol but this represents increased reporting rather than increased incidence.

Yet in the best traditions of Napoleon, the usual suspects in public health, wanting to motivate through fear are calling for bans on alcohol advertising as some sort of panacea. Apparently binge drinking is caused by sponsorship of sports events and the government needs to take action. It is claimed that banning alcohol sponsorship of sports will somehow stop binge drinking.

At the same time we have the situation in West Australia where to open a small bar the owners need to pass a “public interest” test. Not surprisingly most do not pass this vague test. Opening any retail or service business is about supply and demand. It is not a matter of public interest as such.

This clause smells of a health department gone feral. It is seeking to block the opening of bars by default and rather than publicly own up to the fact are hiding behind the notion of public interest. It will be claimed that this is about public health and protecting people from harm.

What rubbish. There is no similar clause for opening a liquor store from which people can by cartons of alcohol rather than a drink at a time. The cost per drink is also a lot less when purchased at a liquor store and for less money.

I do not go to bars, as it is not my thing. However small bars are a better option than large pubs for many people who would like a quiet drink and something to eat. It is far less likely that people will drink to excess in this environment than if they take home a quantity of alcohol from a shop.

As usual with these issues the key point is missed. There are many reasons that people drink to excess. This has happened in Russia in the days of communism when there was no advertising and in Australia, dates back to the days of the Rum Corps.

Excess consumption of alcohol is something individuals do and only individuals (sometimes with support) can change. Blocking the opening of bars means people who want to drink will go somewhere else.

Telling people that stopping advertisements or sponsorship will solve the problem is wrong. It sends the message that someone else can sort it out and avoids the real issue. That is that people are responsible for what they do. Calls for government action deflect responsibility from where it lies – with the individual.