Alcohol consumption data could dry up
PUBLIC health researchers have called for the collection of alcohol sales data to be “improved rather than abandoned” after the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said it would cease reporting on alcohol consumption rates.
The ABS outlined in its recent report, Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia 2006-07, that it may no longer record alcohol consumption estimates derived from sales data.
According to the ABS, the availability of consumption estimates on beer and spirits may change due to excise tariff reforms introduced in July 2006 by the tax office.
“As a result of these changes, this series is being reviewed and may not be published in future years.”
The change in reporting would leave Australia as the only OECD country that did not collect national alcohol consumption data, according to public health researchers.
“It is essential that debates about alcohol policy are informed by good data on alcohol use,” they said.
“Australia is now in danger of failing to collect alcohol sales data at a time when community concern about alcohol is increasing.”
Dr Alex Wodak, director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, agreed: “How could a significant deterioration in data not affect the quality of policy in the future?”
He gave the example of Indigenous health: “We will have very little chance of ‘closing the gap’... unless we also reform alcohol taxes and start sensibly restricting the number of alcohol outlets... [however] marshalling the evidence requires high quality and adequate quantities of data.
“The two most important – that is, effective – ways of dealing with alcohol are price changes and alcohol availability and conditions of sale at outlets,” he said.
“The difficulty is getting these policies through the political maze in the face of such powerful conflicts of interest.”