Booze barons drive profit off alcoholics and binge drinkers
Health researchers call them problem drinkers, but to the liquor industry they are "super consumers".
New Zealand's alcohol industry is profiting massively by supplying binge drinkers, new research says.
Dr Sally Casswell, a public health researcher at Massey University, says 40 per cent of all alcohol sold in New Zealand is consumed in a "heavy drinking" session – more than eight full-strength drinks for a man and six for a woman.
New Zealand's booze profits are also thought to be massively reliant on sales to problem drinkers. Just 20 per cent of Australian drinkers are knocking back three-quarters of all the alcohol consumed there each year, a health group revealed this week, and New Zealand's figures are thought to be "very similar".
* Sophia Nash, a beautiful car crash – and how she escaped alive
* Johann Hari's bold solution to addiction
* Editorial: Time to address our binge culture – it's last man standing, not first man falling
* Anonymous blogger goes public to beat alcohol addiction
* One in 10 Kiwis now alcoholic
Much of the liquor industry's products are consumed "in hazardous or risky circumstances", Casswell said, putting the lie to industry claims of wanting to encourage responsible drinking.
At a liquor trade convention held in New Zealand, retailers were encouraged to identify and target "super consumers" who purchase a disproportionately large part of total sales.
"As little as 10 percent of your customer base can be driving between 40 to 70 percent of your sales," a market researcher told 2014 conference delegates. US research showed certain "super consumers" could be relied upon to buy far higher than average volumes of wine, whisky and vodka, the speaker said.
Robert Brewer, spokesman for Cheers, a drinks industry responsible drinking initiative, said health statistics showed risky drinking and its consequences were coming down and the age at which people started drinking was going up – and that was a good thing.
"The New Zealand drinks industry is committed to helping create a moderate, safe and sociable drinking culture," Brewer said. "We do this collectively through the Cheers programme which industry has invested over $2.5 million in and through the over $11.5 million per annum via an industry levy to government's Health Promotion Agency.
"Ministry of Health surveys also show that 80 per cent of consumers drink responsibly and moderately."
Dunedin liquor retailer Chris Hart, Liquorland's 2014 Franchisee of the Year, had a blunt message for those retailers targeting problem drinkers: "As a responsible retailer you don't want those customers, because they create problems".
Rebecca Williams, director of Alcohol Healthwatch, said it was time to turn attention to the role the alcohol industry played in perpetuating the social harms of alcohol, estimated by research group BERL to cost $5 billion a year.
Williams said an estimated 18 per cent of New Zealand drinkers aged 15 and over drank in a way deemed "hazardous" (as defined using a clinical checklist that includes blackouts, morning drinking, injury while drunk and inability to stop drinking).
"If you were to wave a wand and fix hazardous drinking overnight, the impact on the industry would be running scared, because half their business would go out the door.
"You can say we need to educate, and that people need to make good decisions, but we've been doing that for years, but we're still at 18 per cent."
You would never see an advert that said "Hey, buy our product and binge-drink it". Yet, Williams said, pervasive advertising and sports sponsorship, plus the ready availability of cheap booze, normalised over-consumption.
It was time to put in place the three policies that have repeatedly been shown to work in reducing alcohol harm: reducing access and availability, increasing prices and restricting marketing.
The Government had ignored the most important recommendations made by the Law Commission in a comprehensive review of alcohol law in 2010, she said, and was also sitting on the recommendation of a subsequent "ministerial forum".
SMASHED AND BASHED BY BOOZE
If there ever was an alcohol "super consumer" it would be Sophia Nash.
A drinking habit that started when she was just 10 led to hospitalisation, a car crash and induced coma and nearly to the loss of her two children.
The model, entrepreneur and alcoholic was knocking back up to seven bottles a night during her years of out-of-control drinking.
Nash didn't need a liquor ad to tell her to seek out her next bottle– but marketing still had a powerful impact. "Champagne ads were pretty good," she said.
Often, though, the images that triggered her thirst wouldn't even be liquor adverts. "I'd see an ad about someone on holiday, and they'd be holding a nice drink and relaxing, and I'd think oooh, that would be lovely."
Or it might be a scene in a film – Angelina Jolie having a nice glass of wine, say – "and that might trigger me, because I'd be thinking that looks so decadent and yummy…"
Now, though, Nash would be happy to see the advertising – and indeed the drink itself – banned.
"It should be illegal. It's one of hte most readily available, most stealth-marketed drugs that's ever been, and there are so many people hooked on it that no one wants it to go away. I think that's a sign of how powerful this drug really is."
Nash will tell her story in a social media campaign, being filmed this week, to raise awareness about out-of-control drink and drug use.
- Sunday Star Times