Dr Alex Wodak, Director, Alcohol and Drug Service, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, says so:

“The Federal government’s recently announced national media campaign to reduce high risk drinking among young people is a backward step. Like many previous similar campaigns, we are promised that this education campaign will be part of a comprehensive package. Judging by previous campaigns, readers are advised not to hold their breath waiting for the other elements.

As Professors Wayne Hall and Robin Room noted in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2006 ‘school-based education and mass media campaigns’ are ‘ineffective ways of reducing alcohol-related harm’. They listed as strategies with strong evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness higher taxes for higher alcohol beverages, raising the minimum drinking age to 21 years, reducing outlet density, reducing trading hours, [stricter] enforcement of random breath testing and licensing laws and [more severe] penalties for serving intoxicated customers. Hall and Room regarded school-based education and public service messages as ‘strategies with weak evidence of effectiveness’.
A 2004 comprehensive review of the prevention of substance use risk and harm funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health also found weak evidence for school based and mass media campaigns for alcohol. A recent international review backed by the World Health Organisation came to a similar conclusion.

Of course governments find it irresistible to be seen to be doing things in the alcohol and drug field. This is especially so when one of the major options, serious alcohol tax reform, is politically daunting though supported by very strong evidence. The Rudd government was right to draw attention to the serious health, social and economic costs of high-risk drinking among young people. The huge progress achieved in Australia in recent decades in reducing tobacco smoking shows just what can be done when the community and politicians support known-effective prevention strategies: David can (slowly) overcome Goliath. The tobacco industry used to be immensely powerful and well connected, just as the alcohol beverage industry still is today.

But sooner or later alcohol tax in Australia will have to be reformed, even if only on economic grounds. One of erstwhile Treasurer Peter Costello’s mantras was ‘alcohol tax in Australia is a dog’s breakfast’.”

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