The campaign against binge drinking and alcohol abuse is a worthwhile and noble cause. Nobody who has witnessed the damage done by alcoholism can deny the seriousness of the issue. But binge drinking and alcoholism are not the same thing. They have different causes and different effects. And now it seems we can’t even seem to agree on what exactly constitutes a binge. If the definition turns out to be four standard drinks as has been suggested it means that two people sharing a bottle of wine at dinner are walking perilously close to the edge.
The serious health and social effects of binge drinking make it important that this debate is taken seriously, and not jeopardized by trivialization or hysteria. And yet that is what appears to be happening. The Prime Minister identified an important social challenge when he launched his campaign to combat binge drinking. His Health Minister Nicola Roxon is a capable and responsible person. But the government risks undoing much of its good work over the strange demonisation of the Bundy Bear.
Already under fire over the so called “alcopops” tax which targets spirits based ready to drink products, Nicola Roxon has attacked National Party M.P. Paul Neville over his display of a Bundy Bear in his office window, and accused him of promoting binge drinking.
The truth is that the Bundy Bear is a brilliant advertising gimmick which has become an icon of Australian culture. The Bundy Bear is an example of classic Australian humour. And far from promoting binge drinking, the Bear sets an example as a character who is always cool, in control, and behaves in an appropriate fashion. The Bear promotes the idea of drinking responsibly, and as Paul Neville points out the premixed drinks actually help to do that by providing an accurate and consistent measure of alcohol in the mix.
Unless we all decide as a community to reject the idea of responsible enjoyment of alcohol and outlaw alcohol completely, the debate must remain focused on the harm done by excessive consumption. Otherwise, the debate will lose credibility and the opportunity to deal with the real problems will be lost.