The price to pay for a hard earned-thirst

17 October 2017

Written by: James Oruba

Australia's drinking culture is deeply entrenched, but are advertisements in sport partly to blame?

It’s a common picture we see on our screens: Australian males, after a hard day of toiling away on the worksite or sporting field, treat themselves to an ice-cold can of beer—the ultimate reward for an exhausting day of sweat and sacrifice.

Images of male drinking culture are a frequent fixture of advertising from major beer companies.  Professor Robin Room, director of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, believes that the depiction of alcohol in advertisements has led to higher levels of consumption.

“The advertisements … on TV during sporting events, identify alcohol with positive elements in Australian society, and also suggest new contexts and occasions in which alcohol could play a part,” he tells upstart. 

“So the advertising makes strong efforts, with some success, to spread alcohol further into more kinds of occasions,” Professor Room says.

2005 Victoria Bitter Commercial featuring ex-cricketer David Boon.

Several sporting teams and leagues also display the logos of alcoholic beverage companies. The Queensland NRL State of Origin side is sponsored by XXXX Gold, while the Australian cricket team was sponsored by CUB Breweries over a 20-year period until earlier this year.

Ex-Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson.

The CUB sponsorship required cricketers to display a large VB logo on their shirts, leading to public criticism, including from former NSW Premier, Mike Baird, who raised an alarm over VB’s involvement in the cricketing world.

Speaking at a Gala Dinner for the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation in 2015, Baird said that he found the logo display by the Australian cricket captain to be an “incredible position” to take.

While critics such as Baird and Room voice their concern about the potential influence of alcohol advertising, experts continue to produce evidence on the negative health and social impacts caused by Australian alcohol consumption habits.

Dr Michael Livingston, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, believes that excessive drinking creates a diverse range of problems.

“Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for literally hundreds of diseases. From cancer to heart disease, through to poisoning. It is estimated more than 5,000 Australians die annually from alcohol-related illness or injury,” Livingston tells upstart.

Livingston notes that, along with health issues, several social problems can be attributed to excessive drinking, such as domestic violence, unemployment and financial difficulties.

Statistics support this picture. Within Victoria alone, there are 34 ambulance call-outs for alcohol-related incidents on a daily basis. This exceeds the rates for drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, ice, heroin and methamphetamines.

On a national scale, chronic disease and injury caused by alcohol results in 15 deaths and 430 hospitalisations per day.

The statistics on alcohol consumption by men paint an even darker picture.

According to data from the Australian Government Department of Veterans Affairs’, men are twice as likely than women to drink daily and to drink alcohol in risky quantities.

Additionally, men aged between 15-29 years account for 28% of all alcohol injury-related deaths, while three quarters of hospital admissions for alcohol-related assaults are male.

Are we really a nation of boozy, beer-sculling bogans consistently drinking our compatriots under the table? One way of judging if Australia has a drinking epidemic is to compare the country on a global scale.

In terms of pure alcohol consumption per capita, Australia ranks 22nd, behind many Eastern European nations, such as Belarus and Estonia. Additionally, we are often ranked only slightly above the median and generally within the middle tier, in other key indicators such as percentage of binge-drinking.

Despite the doom and gloom, Livingston believes there is a silver lining.

“The good news is that things are improving in Australia. Per capita, alcohol consumption has declined by about 10 percent since 2008 … driven by large reductions in drinking among teenagers and young adults.

“These trends point towards potential long-lasting improvements if the declines stick as these generations age into adulthood,” Livingston says.

Though Australia’s level of alcohol consumption is problematic for individual health and social problems, an increasing number of organisations are addressing the drinking culture. Initiatives that encourage moderation, such as FebFast or Dry July, are becoming widely-known in supporting people to cut down. For individuals, support can be found with SMART recovery or Alcoholics Anonymous.

James Oruba

James is a final-year journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him and his musings on life through Twitter @jamesoruba95.