EDITORIAL MONDAY 28.07.08. The representatives of the distilled liquor industry have released more sales data to back their claim that the so called alcopops tax has done nothing to address binge drinking. The Liquor Merchants Association of Australia claims that since the tax was introduced sales of the premixed drinks have fallen by 30%, but that this has been counterbalanced by an increase in full strength bottled spirits. The suggestion is that rather than cut down on binge drinking, people have changed over to mixing their own drinks.
If that is true, the tax measure might actually be counterproductive, because when people mix their own drinks there is much less certainty about the quantity of alcohol in each serve. There might also be the tendency to start pouring larger measures as more is consumed in a kind of vicious circle. In contrast, a premixed drink in a can or small bottle has a precise amount of alcohol per serving. The argument is that this helps drinkers to more easily keep track of exactly how much they have been drinking.
There is a measure of logic to that argument, but do the figures really add up to support that idea? Well, not according to Nicola Roxon the Federal Health Minister. Ms. Roxon has accused the industry of selectively using figures to protect their profits. In her view it is significant that the data presented by the Association compares sales in April against sales in June for the simple reason that there is a seasonal effect where people drink more spirits in winter, and more beer and wine in summer.
While I believe that there is a benefit in the precise measures of alcohol offered in premixed drinks, it is also true that the Ready To Drink products have a higher profit margin than straight spirits. Of course, it would be naïve to think that the industry isn’t fighting to preserve its profits. But whatever their motives might be, the truth is that real binge drinkers will simply buy whatever is most affordable and keep on drinking. For that reason, I don’t believe the alcopops tax alone will achieve a great deal in reducing harmful drinking.