Young people speak out about alcohol availability

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1 Policy brief, December 2011 Young people speak out about alcohol availability Drink whatever is available really you can get cheap spirits, you can get cheap beer, you can get pretty much cheap anything male What do young people say about the availability of alcohol? There is considerable concern across the community about the harm caused by alcohol consumption, particularly the impact on young people. Research conducted in Western Australia 1 shows that 30 per cent of 14 to 17 year-olds consumed alcohol in the past week, with 29 per cent of those drinking more than five standard drinks on any single occasion. Only nine per cent of this age group have never consumed alcohol. In 2011 the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA undertook a consultation with nearly 300 young people aged 14 to 17 years across Western Australia to find out their views on alcohol-related harm and the strategies they saw as likely to work in reducing this harm. This policy brief examines in more detail the concerns young people expressed about how the availability of alcohol influenced how much and how often young people drink. Overall, young people who participated in the consultation reported that alcohol featured heavily in all aspects of the Australian lifestyle and was regularly present in their everyday life. Every Australian thing you see is either a guy with a beer in his hand at a BBQ [or in] the outback, laid back setting. male Yeah, drinking is just part of everyday life nothing unusual about it. female How easy or difficult it was to obtain alcohol was ranked by 32 per cent of young people who were current drinkers as a significant factor of influence on how much and how often they drank. Drink until you pass out or it s all gone. male Whatever is available at the time it gets you drunk. female If someone offers you something, you re out there to drink so you re not going to say no. male Consistent with other research 2, the young people who participated in this consultation said that mostly young people drank at private parties or smaller gatherings where alcohol was often supplied, usually by parents.

2 At our after-ball [party] there was pretty much every single kind of alcohol that you could buy. male [My] parents buy me drinks, they let me have a four pack and that s it. female..we don t normally have to pay for it a lot of the time female Even if it wasn t supplied, or permitted, some young people still indicated that alcohol would be available. If there s a party and it says no drinks, of course someone s going to bring drinks. male Older siblings and older friends were also a common source of purchasing alcohol. Some young people also felt that it was easy for them to get served in liquor outlets, particularly if they looked a bit older. Young people get served in bottle shops all the time they never ask for ID. female I can pass for 18, especially in the Kimberley. male Despite young people at times not having to pay for alcohol, the price of alcohol was also a significant factor in young people s drinking and often affected how much they consumed. Cost was also a key factor in how much young people drank on any one occasion. Look for spirits that are on special, cheap drinks and try and get more of it male If there is a good deal, you buy more of it. female Young people s views on strategies to reduce alcohol availability Stronger laws Limiting availability through stronger laws concerning the supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18 years was one of the top strategies raised by young people. Of the young people surveyed, around 50 per cent of non-drinkers and 34 per cent of drinkers rated it as extremely effective. Checking ID every single time so that under age people can t buy it. female Watch the bottle shops closer. male Put the rules on the older people so they don t get it for the younger people. male Increase the fines for those selling or supplying alcohol to under 18s. male Other strategies aimed at reducing availability received more mixed views. Increasing the cost Increasing the cost of alcohol had mixed support among young people. Those that thought it would not be effective cited young people having a high disposable income, getting alcohol supplied for free by parents and others, and the availability of cheap discount liquor. They can put the prices up but there is always going to be cheap stuff. male

3 Well people our age generally, like a lot of people, have jobs or they get pocket money from their parents and alcohol is not that expensive like Passion Pops are like seven bucks. female Some young people were also concerned that increasing the cost of alcohol would have negative effects, such as using other cheaper drugs, stealing to obtain alcohol or, where a parent had an alcohol dependence, families having less to spend on food and other essential items. It will be less food for the kids. male It would just increase stealing, more violence, more break-ins. male Other young people thought that it would be effective. If you increase the cost of alcohol then in terms of parties, yeah, it would make you buy less. female A couple of my mates, they didn t drink as much because they couldn t afford it. male Reducing opening hours and outlet density Strategies aimed at reducing opening hours and density of licensed venues were not seen as particularly effective by young people as most young people s drinking was done at private parties rather than on licensed premises. However some young people, particularly Aboriginal young people and young people in regional areas, did value the impact of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in reducing the amount of time adults could spend purchasing and drinking alcohol. Schedule days for no drinking. Only sell Friday and Saturday so during the week other people don t get drunk and cause hassle for everyone else. Aboriginal female Restricting alcohol availability such as reducing opening hours, the numbers of licensed premises. Aboriginal male How does the availability of alcohol impact on consumption? A World Health Organisation (WHO) international review of alcohol-related research found that regulating the physical availability of alcohol (eg the trading hours and density of liquor outlets) and taxation and pricing were the two most effective types of intervention for reducing alcohol-related harm. 3 Research has demonstrated that increased trading hours and higher outlet density both significantly increase alcohol consumption. Conversely, more than 50 research studies from around the world demonstrate that increased prices reduce levels of consumption. 4 5 It has been estimated 6 that Australia could achieve savings of $2.2 billion dollars in the social costs of alcohol abuse by appropriately increasing the taxation of alcohol. Importantly, the impact of price increases are particularly relevant to young people as, studies consistently show that lower socio-economic groups and people with limited disposable income (young people, Indigenous groups and heavy drinkers) are more directly impacted by the price of alcohol products. 7 As higher rates of consumption are associated with high rates of alcohol-related harm, reducing the overall consumption rate of alcohol is critical.

4 What needs to be done to reduce the availability of alcohol in the community? Addressing the excessive consumption of alcohol in the broader Western Australian community is essential if we are to reduce the impact of alcohol-related harm on our children and young people. Enforcing existing laws Young people were particularly supportive of greater controls and enforcement of laws to prevent the sale and supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18 years. Enforcement of existing legislation to control sale and supply to young people is essential if these laws are to have the necessary impact. Strengthening existing laws The Liquor Control Act 1988 (WA) (the Act) and the Liquor Control Regulations (1989) control the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in Western Australia, including the density of alcohol venues and outlets, trading hours and the imposition of alcohol restrictions on specific areas or communities. The primary objects of the Liquor Control Act 1988 need to be strengthened to ensure that the paramount objective is the minimisation of harm or illhealth caused by alcohol. This will ensure that the Act works, first and foremost, to protect the community from the impact of alcohol-related harm. Introducing new laws Introduction of secondary supply laws, that restrict the supply of alcohol to young people on private premises without parental consent, are necessary. Such laws must be supported by effective education campaigns which increase understanding and commitment to the message that it is not acceptable to buy alcohol for, or supply alcohol to, young people under the age of 18. See the policy briefs Young people speak out about education on alcohol and Young people speak out about the role of parents, available on the Commissioner s website, for more information on these issues. Increasing the price The research consistently demonstrates that the cost of alcohol has a significant impact on the consumption of alcohol, particularly for young people. The introduction of a volumetric tax and a minimum floor price of alcohol to prevent cheap discounting of alcoholic drinks would provide a significant reduction in the consumption of alcohol and, consequently, the impact of alcohol-related harm. Priorities for policy and program development Alcohol-related harm is a multi-faceted problem and requires a comprehensive long-term strategy based on the best available evidence. Strategies directed at reducing the availability of alcohol need to be complemented by other strategies that support broader efforts to reduce excessive alcohol consumption across the community. This includes: legislation to restrict the advertising and promotion of alcohol, particularly advertising to which children and young people are exposed (eg billboard and sport advertising)

5 compulsory education on alcohol in schools and education and support for parents the provision of more alcohol-free events for young people and families public health campaigns to address the culture of excessive alcohol consumption and tolerance of intoxication. For further discussion about these strategies, see the Commissioner s Young People and Alcohol issues paper and the other publications on this topic available at More information on the problem of alcohol-related harm is also available from the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and the National Preventative Health Taskforce NB: All quotes from young people are from the Commissioner for Children and Young People s research into young people s views on reducing alcohol-related harm. The report, Speaking out about reducing alcohol-related harm on children and young people is available at 1 Griffiths P, Kalic R & Gunnell A (2009) Australian School Student Survey 2008: Western Australian results (excluding tobacco). Brief Communication no.2. 2 ibid 3 Babor, T, Caetano, R, Casswell, S, Edwards, G, Giesbrecht, G, Grube J, et al. (2003) Alcohol: no ordinary commodity. New York: World Health Organisation and Oxford University Press. In Preventative Health Taskforce. (2009) Technical Paper 3: Preventing Alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity. On-line ISBN: Preventative Health Taskforce. (2009) Technical Paper 3: Preventing Alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity. On-line ISBN: Roche, A, Bywood, P, Borlagdan, J, Lunnay, B, Freeman, T, Lawton, L, Tovell, A, Nicholas, R. (2007) Young People and Alcohol: The Role of Cultural Influences. National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. Adelaide 6 Collins, D & Lapsley, H (2008) The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential benefits of effective policies to reduce social costs of alcohol. National Drug Strategy, Monograph series No. 70, Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government, Canberra. 7 Preventative Health Taskforce. op cit

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