A government advisory body has suggested increasing the price of alcohol to address what it says is an escalating problem of harmful alcohol consumption in Australia.
(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
The Australian National Council on Drugs says alcohol use affects a significant proportion of the Australian population.
And it says alcohol-related harm is costing the hospital and police services billions of dollars every year.
Abby Dinham reports.
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Research released as part of the Australian National Council on Drugs' Alcohol Action Plan says one in five Australians consumes alcohol at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm from injury or disease.
It says over one-third of alcohol consumers drink specifically to get drunk, and harmful drinking practices are costing government-funded services, such as hospitals and police, more than 15.3 billion dollars a year.
The Council's Margaret Hamilton says the community needs to press the government to make policies that address the alcohol epidemic.
"The governments don't take effective action often around alcohol and they won't take action and provide leadership. I think the community will have to provide leadership. It won't be until the community is calling for effective interventions that we'll actually get things happening."
Ms Hamilton says the impacts of alcohol abuse - crime, violence, health harms and family disturbance - have reached unacceptable levels.
She says education campaigns in schools and advertising on television and radio can only do so much to address the problem and more drastic action needs to be taken.
"We know from evidence both here and from other countries that the most effective way to reduce alcohol harm and the costs to all of us to our own drinking is to increase the price and that was what was done with tobacco over many years and that is the main reason why we've had such an incredibly successful and dramatic reduction in smoking rates."
Research from the Australian National Council on Drugs says higher prices reduce consumption and that, in general, a 10 per cent increase in alcohol price will result in a 5 per cent drop in overall consumption.
It uses the example of a price increase in the Northern Territory in the 1990s in which a 5 per cent increase was placed on certain alcoholic beverage.
The Council says during the price increase, there was a reduction in harmful drinking, reductions in per capita consumption, reductions in fatal and non-fatal traffic accidents and reductions in alcohol-related mortality.
But a government-imposed increase on the price of alcohol may not be a popular move with most Australians.
"They hit the smokers, the drinkers. It's just another tax to get more money for the government. I don't think it'll do anything for problem drinking."
"They shouldn't raise it."
"Nah - I dont drink so I wouldn't care."
But the Council's Margaret Hamilton says even a small changes in price can have an impact on consumption and harm.
"I think the violence associated with alcohol use is something people are blind to or don't register or have become so used to it that it doesn't connect. So things like areas of cities that we feel we can't safely walk in is largely because of alcohol consumption, intoxicated behaviour."
The Council has put forward a series of recommendations to the federal government aimed at tackling the issue, including debate on the legal drinking age.
It's also called for the implementation of an independent body to review and regulate alcohol advertising and promotion.
John Scott, CEO of the independent alcohol awareness group Drinkwise Australia, says the culture of drinking in Australia is well established and change needs to come with the emerging generation of drinkers.
"Young people become a particularly interesting group and many people comment that it is a rite of passage when turning 18 and being of the legal drinking age that many young people do actually drink to get drunk."