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It’s Not The Drinking; It’s How We’re Drinking

It’s Not The Drinking; It’s How We’re Drinking

March 7 2005

A series of print and television advertisements designed to help change New Zealand’s risky drinking culture was launched today.

The advertisements are the most visible component of the Alcohol Advisory Council’s (ALAC) programme of work that aims to help New Zealanders reduce the amount of alcohol they drink on any one occasion. The advertisements aim to get New Zealanders to see the connection between getting drunk and the harms that result.

“It’s not the fact that we drink that’s the problem; the problem is how we drink, that is, the excessive per occasion consumption,” says ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy. “The first step to change is to get people to link that pattern with harms, and at the moment many don’t recognise that connection. We’re not likely to get behaviour change if no-one thinks it’s their problem. So that is what our advertising campaign will do at first.

“New Zealand is a nation that seems to pride itself on the ‘save it up for Friday night’ style of drinking, the ‘we deserve a drink’ perspective or consider ‘it’s a rite of passage that causes little harm’.

“This pattern of drinking results in more harms and social costs than those incurred by the dependent drinker,” he says.

The harms range from injuries resulting from accidents or fights; problems with relationships because of alcohol; problems at work; neglect of family responsibilities; embarrassment from indulging in behaviours that you wouldn’t normally indulge in – all are associated with excessive per occasion consumption.

Recent research commissioned by ALAC shows Mäori and non-Mäori have different alcohol consumption patterns on average. Non-Mäori are more likely to be alcohol drinkers and drink more often, but drink less on a typical drinking occasion, when compared with Mäori. The differences are such that average alcohol consumption per day among Mäori and non-Mäori is similar, but the impacts on health are likely to differ substantially.

Overall, Mäori had four times the alcohol-related mortality of non-Mäori, and more than double the rate of years of life lost due to alcohol, after adjustment for differences in age structure of the two populations. Fewer lives were lost due to alcohol as well as more deaths prevented by alcohol in non-Mäori compared with Mäori, relative to the size of their populations.
“What it says about Maori is that our drinking pattern is different,” says Te Atarangi Whiu Group Manager Community Strategies. “We know this in our communities. We save it up longer, we congratulate ourselves for going long periods without drinking, ‘haven’t drunk all month, this is my turn’ and then we don’t put the brakes on. We drink too much per occasion and the reason we die from that is because we suffer acute injury and we die from that injury and it’s because we drink too much per occasion. Non-Maori don’t drink as much per occasion as Maori do and so they get the benefits of alcohol consumption to a degree that we don’t.”

Dr MacAvoy says the programme’s not necessarily about stopping people drinking. “We just want people to be responsible and aware of the dangers of excessive consumption.

“The programme is a long-term strategy. It's not a silver bullet that'll solve the problem overnight and we've never painted it as such. Just as the drink driving and the Make it Click campaigns took several years to succeed, so too will this strategy take time to impact.”

Dr MacAvoy says the background work to the programme of work was robust and unequivocal and ALAC is delighted at the support the programme has received from many Government and non-Government stakeholders.

The advertising aspect of the programme which is being launched today follows the ’stages of change’ model and ALAC would not move from one phase to another until a set level of engagement from the community had been achieved.

Specifically it take New Zealanders on a journey by
 enabling New Zealanders’ to make the connection between risky per occasion consumption and the social and physical harms that result
 showing New Zealanders that they might be at risk of contributing to that harm and that there is something they can do about it
 persuading New Zealanders to drink differently so that harm does not occur.

Dr MacAvoy says to get the necessary behaviour change we have to sell to the New Zealand drinker the notion that we have to reduce the quantity of alcohol we drink on a single occasion.

However, he emphasised that the advertising will not work alone. “It is not about simply delivering a social message by mass media. It is about an integrated programme of complementary strategies that the marketing messages are designed to stimulate.”

Supporting activities range from achieving better compliance with and enforcement of the Sale of Liquor Act, controlled purchase operations to identify breaches of the Act, parents’ programmes, policy measures such as tax/price, outlet density, advertising and purchase age, community programmes, to strategies that focus on the group of dependent and hazardous drinkers who need support and assistance to reduce or stop their drinking.

Associate Minister of Health Hon Damien O’Connor who championed an increase in the alcohol levy to fund the programme says binge drinking is pervasive in New Zealand, and not just among youth. A recent survey found 450,000 adults had drunk beyond the point of intoxication on their last drinking occasion. 275,000 had set out to get drunk on their last drinking occasion.

At a meeting last week in Wellington on alcohol policy, Hon Mr O’Connor said, “This government is committed to improving these damaging habits. I for one am very excited about this programme. We've tried other things in the past to stem the binge-drinking tide, but now it's really time to get to the heart of the problem and do something long-term. I'm confident the drinking culture change programme is the right approach and I'm proud we're taking this bold and leading-edge approach.”


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