Geoff Munro, National Policy Manager at the Australian Drug Foundation, responds to a previous post by Dr Alex Wodak:

“Alex Wodak rightly points out that media campaigns do not in themselves change much behavior directly, so we cannot expect the binge drinking campaign to have a big effect.

It is hardly fair though, to characterize the campaign as backward. For a start, it tackles the drug that poses a real threat to the health and lives of young people: one teenager dies every week due to drinking and many more endure a range of permanent and temporary physical harms.

Second, the campaign tackles drinking customs in the context of problems that resonate with young people, aggression, violence, unsafe sex, road trauma. Not all government campaigns do that.

The tobacco control campaign that Alex Wodak celebrates for cutting down smoking makes liberal use of social marketing campaigns. Such campaigns help to set agendas, encourage “early adopters,” and prime the community for subsequent action. They establish a climate in which governments can take harder-edged actions, like increased taxation and tighter regulation, that impact directly on consumption.

Health workers should be making the case for a permanent advertising campaign on high risk drinking pace tobacco; a campaign that allows messages to be developed for different populations – teenagers, young adults, parents of children; parents of teenagers and middle-aged and older people.

The advice on drinking that was drafted for the National Health and Medical Research Council last year indicated the range of themes to be addressed. Low risk drinking applies to adults, but not to people aged under eighteen, or women pregnant or those hoping to become pregnant; best that they avoid drinking altogether. This will be quite a trick in Australia where drinking is hot wired into our collective social life and heavy drinking is sanctioned by custom.

One way of tackling it is a campaign that would congratulate people who enjoy alcohol without creating problems. Most people respond better to encouragement than criticism, so we might reinforce positive behaviour than highlight problems.

Call it “skilful drinking,” as opposed to “skinful”. Let’s reward people who enjoy themselves without spewing, without fighting, without drink driving, who create a time for their companions to remember fondly, rather than a night to forget, or one they can’t recall at all.”

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