In a classic exercise in Nannyism, Darwin Council have decided to push for a ban on alcohol advertising, despite the significant evidence showing that this is a foolhardy move. Their proposal to ban advertising will supposedly reduce the consumption of alcohol, and in doing so help end the issues we face as a consequence of one of our favourite vices. Yet this proposal doesn’t hold up under any sort of scrutiny.
First, there is no evidence that suggests banning alcohol advertising will reduce alcohol consumption. A review by Cochrane found several studies in which the conclusion was uncertain, and one which showed a rise in beer consumption after banning alcohol advertising. So why have Darwin Council decided they know better than the evidence, and to push for bans that have not been proven to be effective?
Beyond that, alcohol advertisement is already heavily regulated to ensure that it only promotes responsible drinking habits, and does not feed into the problems that the council is trying to solve. Yet Darwin Council have decided we need to go further and ban all alcohol advertising in order to ensure advertisements that are already banned are not played.
Even worse than the lack of evidence in favour of the ban is the significant evidence showing that this move will damage local communities. Local sport clubs, community groups and charities rely on sponsorships that are often provided by alcohol. Have Darwin Council considered how many of these local organisations, that are vital in maintaining communities across Australia, can find alternate sponsorship, and how many will be forced to shut down by this move? Not only is the Darwin Council pushing a “solution” that is not supported by the evidence, but they are pushing one that will devastate our comunities.
However, Darwin Council have tried to push one argument to defend their proposal: the drop in smoking rates due to bans on advertising tobacco. Yet applying solutions from issues with tobacco to alcohol is completely absurd. No doctor would recommend smoking in moderation, or suggest that there are positive benefits to it that may outweigh the negatives, whereas there is no harm with drinking a small amount of alcohol, and drinking a small amount three or four times a week may actually improve it. Beyond that, there are the significant benefits alcohol brings as a way to relax after a hard day of work, to catch up with mates, and as a social lubricant. Unlike tobacco, the question with alcohol is not how to wean people off it or reduce harm, but how to ensure that it is used responsibly.
If we want to solve our problems with alcohol, a puritan approach to consumption is not the solution. Instead, we need to look at the specific problems that can occur as a result of irresponsible drinking, and then at the solutions that address these problems rather than punishing us all for the actions of a minority of drinkers.
Kyle Williams is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.