Australian news sources are reporting a perceived decline in alcohol purchases, with experts now urging politicians to support the Australian federal Government’s “Alcopops tax”. This tax, part of a strategy which adds a 70 percent tax hike on ready-to-drink products, was intended to curb binge-drinking by young drinkers.
After being implemented, the tax does appear to have caused pre-mixed drink sales to fall as much as 26 percent; but could the information be skewed?
Alcopop refers to bottled mixed-drink malt or wine beverages, and is a general term which describes a variety of brands and beverages. However, the spirits industry does not condone the use of the term, fearing that obvious associations between “alcohol” and “(soda) pop” may bring negative press for being attractive to individuals below the legal drinking age.
Dr. Tanya Chikritzhs from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute in Australia recently headed a study which monitored sales trends, finding that almost half the drop in sales appeared to be a result of people reducing alcohol intake altogether, the desired effect of the tax, as opposed to people substituting alcopops for more affordable drinks like beer and wine. According to Chikritzhs, “the fact that there had been some substitution from Alcopops to spirits did not mean there was no public health benefit.” She still urges politicians to support the tax, regardless.
Spirits industry spokespeople have dismissed the research, claiming it is flawed because the impact was examined at a time when the drinks were not being marketed. However, is there other research that indicates the logic behind this research could be flawed?
According to the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA), there are a variety of misconceptions about Alcopops in general which should first be considered. For instance, one of the reasons Alcopop taxes were implemented was because of their appeal to younger drinkers, particularly women, due to being “colorful and sweet”. However, DSICA statistics indicate that about two thirds of all pre-mixed spirits sold aren’t beverages known for their sweetness, nor bright colors; instead, these are dark spirits, consisting of bourbon, scotch, and dark rum. Furthermore, these beverages are predominately consumed by males 25 and older.
In addition, “young drinkers” whom the tax intends to prevent from engaging in binge-drinking would naturally have to consist of new drinkers, since nobody is able to ward off aging, regardless of how much or how little they drink. In spite of this, the majority of individuals purchasing pre-mixed beverages are existing drinkers who appear to enjoy the convenience of purchasing drinks that have been mixed for them, as opposed to mixing their own at home. DSICA literature points out that this is actually safer and more desirable, since pre-mixed drinks contain a “known and measured amount of alcohol, unlike drinks mixed at home.”
Also, considering that beer makes up nearly 40% of all alcohol sales in Australia, the meager comparison of a mere 5% that pre-mixed drink sales comprise further helps illustrate the reality of how much Alcopop consumption may be leading to unhealthy practices by younger drinkers (see chart below).
Though significant drops in overall purchase of alcohol have declined since the “Alcopop Tax” was initiated, does this accurately reflect a change among the drinking habits of the target demographic (young drinkers)? When looking at the given statistics, it seems clearly debatable.