Drink firms say alcohol is a 'social enabler'

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012
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JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
CHEERS: Alcohol companies will launch The Tomorrow Project to advocate responsible drinking.

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Alcohol companies are following the lead of the tobacco industry by launching a campaign to promote the virtues of their product in the face of Government crackdowns.

The Tomorrow Project, backed by the Brewer's Association, Distilled Spirits Association and New Zealand Winegrowers, will launch in Auckland tonight, unveiling a website to advocate responsible drinking.

Information on the project's website pre-launch yesterday promoted alcohol as a ''social enabler'' used for both celebrating and commiserating.

The industry move has already been criticised by advocates of safe drinking.

Rebecca Williams, the director of Alcohol Healthwatch, said the new project was a joke.

''The alcohol industry have put this together as a huge PR exercise to delay effective policy measures from happening on this issue,'' she said.

''They are trying to show governments across the world something is being done, but it's just a smoke screen.''

The industry website, blocked from public access before this evening's launch event at The Cloud, said: ''New Zealanders need to be better supported to understand the drivers and effects of their drinking behaviour, and to make smarter choices to keep themselves, and the people around them, safe and sociable when they are drinking.

''The Tomorrow Project operates a public education programme to give New Zealanders the information they need to make good decisions about the way they drink.''

Jessica Venning-Bryan, the Tomorrow Project programme director, has worked in reputation management projects for liquor and gambling in the past. She refused to talk more about the project before its launch.

The launch of the drinking ''social change initiative'' comes months after British American Tobacco's campaign against the Government's plain packaging initiative for cigarettes in New Zealand.

Its website AgreeDisagree.co.nz gives an overview about why the company was opposed to plain packaging of tobacco products.

The liquor industry website yesterday was able to take users through various drinking scenarios, from having a party to going out on the town.

It also offered up advice about drinking when pregnant, breastfeeding, and has a quiz to gauge if the amount a person is drinking is normal or not.

When talking to teens about drinking, the site said to ''discuss the pros and cons objectively together.''

''You need to aim for a balance: Warn them of the dangers and make them aware of the laws; but also explain that adults can safely enjoy moderate social drinking.''

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Williams said it seemed a cynical marketing campaign.

''These companies are just out to get money. They don't give a brass razoo about the risks and they have to be held to be honest about it,'' she said.

A group of academics and Capital and Coast District Health Board sent a public warning yesterday, saying the initiative is just a ploy to improve the alcohol industry's reputation to block law reform.

Alcohol Action NZ said the public should "not be fooled" by the launch, saying it is simply a way of moving more alcohol from the shelves.

"It is simply a marketing exercise, dressed up as a health promotion event.

"Using a well documented alcohol industry tactic, it is a cynically designed exercise to attempt to improve their public image, while increasing beer, wine and spirit sales."

The group of opponents said strategies proposed on the website are just designed to avoid any real alcohol reform.

- Auckland Now

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