Alcohol advertising: the effectiveness of current regulatory codes in addressing community concern

24 Feb 2014

Executive Summary: This Draft Report examines all aspects and forms of alcohol advertising and marketing in Australia to assess whether the current complex mix of self-regulatory, co-regulatory and legislative provisions is serving to adequately protect children and adolescents against exposure to unsuitable content. This review analyses regulatory actions within the broader context of the Australian Government’s approach to regulation.

Major national reviews (conducted in 2003 and 2009) on the effectiveness of self-regulation of alcohol advertising, under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), identified significant shortcomings; the implementation of these past recommendations is re-assessed in this Draft Report.

The context for alcohol regulation in Australia

Alcohol-related harm to people of any age remains an issue of ongoing concern for the Australian community and a challenging area for public policy response by Australian governments at all levels. The overall social and economic costs of alcohol misuse to the Australian community are estimated to be in excess of $15 billion per annum.

As in many areas of medicine and public health, research on the harmful effects of alcohol has provided evidence of both the short-term and long-term health risks of harmful alcohol use. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) most recently reviewed this evidence in 2009 and published revised Drinking Guidelines for Australians. These Guidelines recommend that for young Australians under the age of 18 not drinking is the safest option. The NHMRC provides further advice to parents of adolescents that delaying
the age of drinking initiation, as long as possible, is important to protect the health and wellbeing of young Australians. The NHMRC’s evidence review indicates that the earlier a young person commences drinking, increases both the short-term risks of binge drinking as a young person and the lifelong risks of being a heavy or problem drinker as an adult. However, alcohol consumption among Australian adolescents remains prevalent, with about 31% of boys and 14% of girls aged 15 to 17 years exceeding the adult guidelines for single
occasion risk.

Regulators at the state and territory level have moved to address this emerging body of evidence on the risks of alcohol consumption for adolescents. The principal regulatory mechanism for controlling the supply of alcohol in Australia is state and territory liquor licensing legislation that establishes a minimum legal purchasing age for alcohol and where, when and how alcohol may be sold. Over the past decade, five State and Territory
Governments (NSW, QLD, TAS, NT, and VIC), have also passed ‘secondary supply’ legislation to support parents to restrict the supply of alcohol to their adolescent children.

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