Youths and Alcohol: the great moral panic

by on 20 September, 2012

Screen-Shot-2012-07-20-at-5.21.23-PMSiobhan Harris rejects arguments for further alcohol regulation, and argues we need a return to personal responsibility:

Yesterday the National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young
People was held in Parliament House in Canberra. The event was in association
with the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAF).  In attendance were public health experts,
non-government organizations, law enforcement bodies, youth associations and
‘experts in alcohol’.

Together they reached a ‘broad consensus’, that youths were
being exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing. They also list the ways in
which youths were being exposed such as social media platforms like Facebook.
They patted themselves on back for understanding that we’re in a new age of
technology and social media and youths get their information from a variety of

Music, cultural and sporting events and clubs were said to
normalize drinking as it’s promoted as part of a fun and healthy lifestyle. They
found that the current policy is insufficient in addressing the problem of
youth drinking. Together they called for greater regulation along with four
major demands. Greater regulation is always called for when creative measures
are not considered.

So together they set about a list of demands. The first
demand on their list was a comprehensive inquiry into marketing and promotions
exposure to focus on how the marketing is targeted towards youths, assess the
exposure of sporting and cultural events and demanding that the alcohol
industry provide transparency into their annual expenditure on promotions and

The second demand was to conduct an independent review and
analysis of research on promotions and advertising on attitudes and behaviours
of youths in relation to alcohol consumption.

The third demand, arguably the most noteworthy is to produce
a ‘failure analysis’ of the voluntary industry administered code of alcohol
practice that currently operates in Australia. The final demand was, as is
always the case in moral panics, a call for greater regulation by the

So how did they come to recognize youth alcohol consumption
as a public problem? The document makes no mention of trained medical
professionals providing an evidence based approach, nor were reliable
statistics used to supplement their assertions. In fact the document makes no
mention of any reasons for the need to act. Why? Because it was unnecessary,
there was already a broad consensus.

Without blinking an eyelid they have exaggerated the
‘problem’ of alcohol consumption by youths and have blamed the big bad media
for causing further harm. Media theorists can’t even agree on the effects of advertising
let alone a group of morally superior Nanny Statists. Youths have often been
the focus of insidious attempts fuelled by public outcry that leads to
government intervention into the lives of youths. Such intervention is often
punitive, counter-effective and leads to a significant social division.  

The current restrictions on advertising is already a
stranglehold of creative license. Take for instance the Alcohol Beverages
Advertising (and packaging) Code under Section C;

i) must not depict the consumption or presence of alcohol
beverages as a cause of or contributing to the achievement of personal,
business, social, sporting, sexual or other success;

ii) if alcohol beverages are depicted as part of a
celebration, must not imply or suggest that the beverage was a cause of or
contributed to success or achievement; and

iii) must not suggest that the consumption of alcohol
beverages offers any therapeutic benefit or is a necessary aid to relaxation

I mean really, alcohol achieves many of those outcomes, but
we just can’t say that. We can’t say
what we really think because the government has to tell us we’re wrong, tells
us that alcohol is bad for you. The Nanny that cares for us, government knows
what’s best for us.

Alcoholic brands also help fund sporting clubs in local
communities, all that does is associate the brand with a community focus. To
suggest that people automatically associate alcohol with a fit and healthy
lifestyle is demeaning at best.

Every time we let the Nanny care for us, we sacrifice our
civil liberties, often incrementally over a long period of time. That way we
won’t notice, we accept the next small change. The more we get bossed around
the less likely we are to learn from and experience risk. The more power we
give to the Nanny, the more it will take until eventually regulation is so
strangled that we’re banned from activities, behaviours, speech or appearance.

The government and all Nanny Staters should learn that
sometimes the best action is inaction. Let individuals make their own decisions
about how they consume alcohol, let them experience risky behaviour. Remove the
ridiculous restrictions on advertising and let people make up their own minds. 

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University. 

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