Watchdog cynical on liquor education move

Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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

The Tomorrow Project, backed by the Brewers' Association, Distilled Spirits Association and New Zealand Winegrowers, will this evening launch a website to advocate responsible drinking.

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

The move has already been criticised by established advocates of safe drinking. Rebecca Williams, director of Alcohol Healthwatch, called the project 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 smokescreen."

The website, blocked from public access before this evening's launch event at Auckland's 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."

Tomorrow Project programme director Jessica Venning-Bryan 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, explained 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 or breastfeeding, and a quiz to gauge whether how much a person is drinking is normal or not.

When talking to teens about drinking, the site said it was important 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," it suggested.

Ms Williams said it seemed to be a cynical marketing campaign.

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"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."

- The Dominion Post

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