Al­copop firms rush to de­fen­sive

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

The me­dia has al­ways dis­played a keen in­ter­est in the al­co­hol con­sump­tion habits of young women.

So far, that so­cial con­science hasn’t ex­tended to run­ning sim­i­larly out­raged sto­ries about last week’s ef­forts by the al­co­hol in­dus­try to pre­serve their lu­cra­tive trade in ‘‘al­copop’’ drinks tar­geted at young women.

What brought the coun­try’s top liquor in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives speed­ing to the Bee­hive last week was the Al­co­hol Re­form Bill pro­posal to ban liquor stores from sell­ing ready-to-drink bev­er­ages (RTDs) with more than 6 per cent al­co­hol con­tent, and more than 11⁄ stan­dard drinks per con­tainer.

In the Law Com­mis­sion re­port that trig­gered the cur­rent bill, re­searchers had found that the most com­mon drinkers of RTDs were 14- to- 24 year olds, and women in par­tic­u­lar.

The al­co­hol in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives wheeled up the heavy ar­tillery for their meet­ing last week with Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ju­dith Collins.

Re­port­edly, the in­dus­try’s po­si­tion is that the leg­is­la­tion be­ing con­sid­ered would vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional laws by un­fairly tar­get- ing RTDs. Ms Collins was told that such a move could – for in­stance – breach our Closer Eco­nomic Re­la­tions deal with Aus­tralia.

If so, this would be a very odd out­come, given that Aus­tralia in­tro­duced a whop­ping 70 per cent tax in­crease aimed at RTDs in 2008, which re­sulted in an im­me­di­ate 30 per cent de­cline in al­copop sales the fol­low­ing year. (Beer and spir­its sales rose in tan­dem, pro­duc­ing only a slight change in over­all al­co­hol con­sump­tion in Aus­tralia.)

New Zealand has cho­sen not to go down that road.

It hasn’t in­creased the ex­cise tax on al­co­hol, nor en­forced min­i­mum pric­ing for al­co­hol nor placed re­stric­tions on al­co­hol ad­ver­tis­ing or spon­sor­ship.

The All Blacks, per­haps the na­tion’s most pow­er­ful role mod­els for the young, have not been de­ployed to pro­mote the re­spon­si­ble use of al­co­hol.

On the con­trary, the Rugby Union re­port­edly told Par­lia­ment’s se­lect com­mit­tee hear­ings that rugby should be ‘‘lever­ag­ing its sta­tus and po­lit­i­cal strength more to mit­i­gate the risk [to spon­sor­ship] or even turn it into a more pos­i­tive com­mer­cial out­come for brew­ery part­ners’’.

In other words, hypocrisy is ram­pant when it comes to our at­ti­tudes to­wards al­co­hol con­sump­tion by the young.

So­ci­ety seems more than will­ing to de­nounce the young women who con­sume the al­co­hol in­dus­try’s prod­ucts, even while the same in­dus­try puts pres­sure on Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters not to im­pose any mean­ing­ful re­stric­tions on their du­bi­ous trade.

Coin­ci­den­tally, much the same lob­by­ing process was ev­i­dent last week in the cig­a­rette in­dus­try re­sponse to re­cent ad­ver­tis­ing re­stric­tions and to the fur­ther reg­u­la­tions still un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Re­tail out­lets will now be re­quired to con­ceal the cig­a­rette dis­plays that have for­merly served as a lu­cra­tive trig­ger for nico­tine crav­ings.

The Gov­ern­ment is still pon­der­ing whether to fol­low Aus­tralia’s lead, and in­tro­duce manda­tory plain pack­ag­ing for cig­a­rettes.

The cig­a­rette in­dus­try’s re­sponse has in­cluded set­ting up a web­site to rally re­sis­tance to fur­ther re­stric­tions on its lethal trade.

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