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Doctors hit out at alcohol’s ability to self-regulate

By RJ Whitehead , 21-Feb-2013

Accusing Australia’s alcohol industry of being incapable of self-regulation, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called on the government to launch an inquiry into alcohol marketing amid what it calls an unprecedented push by the industry to lure young people into early and potentially harmful drinking patterns.

The AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that it was clear that self-regulation by the alcohol industry had failed, and a federal inquiry was needed to look at the extent of alcohol marketing to teenagers and young people, and to develop more stringent and enforceable regulations.

Alcohol marketing is a pervasive and dangerous presence in the lives of our young people,” said Hambleton.

Young people are starting to drink at an earlier age, and most drink in ways that put their health at risk. But the current voluntary industry-administered approach to marketing regulation has failed to stem the growth and impact of alcohol marketing in Australia.

Parallel problem

Hambleton’s call was backed by eminent British public health advocate, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reform alcohol policy in the United Kingdom.

Sir Ian, a guest speaker at an alcohol policy forum hosted by the AMA at Parliament House this week, said the UK and Australia faced similar health problems caused by drinking, particularly among young people.

He added that in both countries, efforts to tackle the problem were being undermined by the alcohol industry, which was exploiting significant gaps in policy to promote drinking.

While some progress was being made in the UK, such as moves to introduce a minimum floor price for alcohol, Sir Ian said a recent upsurge in alcohol marketing, particularly directed at young people, was a critical issue.

In a recent report, Alcohol Marketing and Young People: Time for a New Policy Agenda, the AMA highlighted the “tricks and methods” used by alcohol companies in marketing their products to young people, including extensive use of social media.

Industry hits back

However, the Australian Association of National Advertisers acting chief executive Alina Bain has denied the AMA’s claims, stressing that a number of regulations are in place governing the messaging and placement of alcohol advertising. 

The current self-regulatory system is effective and is underpinned by a responsive and transparent complaints handling system overseen by the ASB. All major alcohol producers and media organisations are part of the self-regulatory system,” she said.

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