Monday, 24 March 2008

Message on a bottle for binge drinkers

BOTTLES of alcoholic drinks could soon carry graphic pictures warning of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption as part of the Federal Government's latest series of measures to cut down on under-age and binge drinking.

At a meeting of state and federal leaders in Adelaide on Wednesday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will tell his state colleagues he also wants national guidelines covering the responsible service of alcohol and uniform standards on the serving of alcohol to minors, including training for bar staff.

The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, said yesterday there was "no coherent national approach to tackling binge drinking among young people".

"While young people must take greater personal responsibility for their behaviour, binge drinking is a community-wide problem that demands a community-wide response … What is lacking is a consistently tough message," Ms Roxon said.

The Federal Government is concerned that the penalties for bar attendants and licensees found to be selling alcohol to people under the age of 18 vary from state to state and wants the inconsistencies ironed out.

In NSW, a licensee found guilty of supplying alcohol to minors can be fined $6600 but in Queensland the fine is as high as $18,750 and in South Australia the penalty is $20,000.

"State and territory laws relating to secondary supply are currently inconsistent," Ms Roxon said. "For example, in some states, it is deemed acceptable if a minor is supervised by an adult. In some states, restrictions on supplying alcohol to minors only relate to licensed premises, or to public venues."

Labels on alcohol containers could mimic the graphic pictures on cigarette packets that are intended to scare people off smoking by showing them photographs of gangrenous limbs and ulcerated mouths.

The Federal Government is on a crusade against binge and under-age drinking. Earlier this month Mr Rudd said he wanted to "scare the living daylights" out of binge-drinking teenagers with a graphic Grim Reaper-style advertising campaign warning of the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

As part of a $53.5 million national binge-drinking strategy endorsed by cabinet earlier this month, the Government will require sporting clubs to introduce codes of conduct on responsible drinking behaviour for players, officials and members.

The latest plans came as two brewing companies announced they would ban "alcopops" - the high-energy, high-sugar alcoholic drinks favoured by many younger drinkers.

But the Government has not yet gone as far as expressing support for plans to put a 9pm curfew on alcohol advertising, a plan being investigated by a Senate committee.

That committee is also examining the effectiveness of putting warning labels on bottles and cans.


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