Policy context

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Policy context

The health and community costs of excessive alcohol consumption in Australia have been well-documented[1][2][3][4]. However, there has been no coordinated approach to reducing the impact of alcohol-related harms; the limited initiatives undertaken have been focused largely on minimising the short-term harms of excessive alcohol consumption.

Australia's harmful consumption levels by international comparison[5] and the high community costs of alcohol misuse[6], including the impact on cancer burden and treatment costs[3][7], show the urgent need for more effective, integrated public policy interventions.

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Alcohol consumption guidelines

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol advise healthy men and women to consume no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury[8].

The guidelines also include recommendations for minimising the risk associated with one-off drinking occasions, consumption for children and young people and for pregnant and breastfeeding women[8].

Cancer Council Australia recommends that to reduce their risk of cancer, people limit their alcohol consumption. Individuals who choose to drink alcohol should do so within the NHMRC guidelines. Although low levels of alcohol consumption, particularly over a prolonged period, increase an individual's risk of developing alcohol-related cancer, the NHMRC guidelines are a useful guide for moderating consumption. The less alcohol you consume, the lower your risk of alcohol-related cancer[9][10][11][12].

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Existing alcohol control policy in Australia

Responsibility for alcohol policies in Australia is shared across all levels of government and is based on harm minimisation principles. Key elements of current alcohol control strategies include:

  • regulatory controls relating to the sale and supply of alcohol;
  • alcohol pricing and taxation;
  • drink driving laws;
  • self-regulation of alcohol advertising and marketing;
  • health promotion and direct intervention strategies, including counselling and treatment services; and
  • provision of information and education on alcohol and its related harms, either at the population level through media campaigns, or through community-based educational programs.

The National Alcohol Strategy 2006-11 was co-developed by federal, state and territory governments and endorsed through the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy in May 2006 as a response to high-risk alcohol consumption in Australia. The four priority areas nominated as the focus of the strategy were:

  • intoxication;
  • public safety and amenity;
  • health impacts; and
  • cultural place and availability.

The new National Drug Strategy 2010-15 sets out a coordinated national strategy for minimising alcohol-related harms, which was developed through collaboration between governments, non-government organisations, industry partners and the broader Australian community. The strategy focuses on three pillars – harm reduction, supply reduction, demand reduction. Activity under the strategy is undertaken at both national and jurisdictional level by health, law enforcement and education services and non-government organisations funded under agreement with the Australian Government. Under this overarching strategy, a new National Alcohol Strategy will be developed to continue the work under the existing alcohol strategy.

In addition, a National Binge Drinking Strategy was announced in 2008 to address binge drinking among young Australians.

The 2009 National Preventative Health Strategy made a number of recommendations for alcohol policy reforms, including regulation of alcohol promotions and reforming alcohol taxation and pricing arrangements to discourage harmful drinking. The full report and recommendations from the National Preventative Health Taskforce can be accessed here. The report also contains detailed information about the history of alcohol control policy in Australia and an analysis of interventions explored according to the evidence and extent of research.

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  1. Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez AD. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. Canberra: AIHW; 2007. Report No.: Cat. no. PHE 82. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442467990.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australasian Association of Cancer Registries. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2008. Canberra: AIHW; 2008. Report No.: Cancer series no. 46. Cat. no. CAN 42..
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pascal R, Chikritzhs TN, Jones P. Trends in estimated alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology; 2009. Report No.: National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Available from: http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/pdf/naip/naip012.pdf.
  4. Collins DJ, Lapsley HM. The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2008 Available from: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/mono64/$File/mono64.pdf.
  5. World Health Organization. Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol: draft global strategy. WHO; 2009 Dec 3. Report No.: EB126/13. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB126/B126_13-en.pdf.
  6. Collins D, Lapsley H. The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential benefits of effective policies to reduce the social costs of alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2008. Report No.: Monograph Series No. 70. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/0A14D387E42AA201CA2574B3000028A8/$File/mono70.pdf.
  7. Winstanley MH, Pratt IS, Chapman K, Griffin HJ, Croager EJ, Olver IN, et al. Alcohol and cancer: a position statement from Cancer Council Australia. Med J Aust 2011 May 2;194(9):479-82 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21534909.
  8. 8.0 8.1 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: NHMRC; 2009 Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ds10-alcohol.pdf.
  9. Million Women Study Collaborators, Allen NE, Beral V, Casabonne D, Kan SW, Reeves GK, et al. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009 Mar 4;101(5):296-305 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19244173.
  10. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, Hamajima N, Hirose K, Tajima K, Rohan T, Calle EE, et al. Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer--collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer 2002 Nov 18;87(11):1234-45 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439712.
  11. Corrao G, Bagnardi V, Zambon A, La Vecchia C. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med 2004 May;38(5):613-9 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066364.
  12. World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.

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