09 May 2013
More effective measures to curb the rising incidence of heavy drinking in Australia must be introduced to avoid greater health problems, says one of the country’s leading experts on alcohol research.
In Adelaide for Cancer Council’s 11th Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference which continues at the Crowne Plaza today, Professor Robin Room, Director at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at the Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre in Melbourne, says better interventions are available to reduce the risks of alcohol consumption in Australia.
He points to latest findings from the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s Annual Alcohol Poll that indicate there has been an increase in the proportion of Australians who drink alcohol to get drunk.
“The figures show that 40% of Australian adults engage in risky behaviour by drinking to get drunk,” said Professor Room, who also works at the Melbourne School of Population & Global Health at the University of Melbourne and as an advisor to the World Health Organisation.
“These figures have increased from 35% in 2011. It’s very worrying when you consider the host of potential health problems, including cancer, which are associated with alcohol.”
Professor Room says that heavy alcohol consumption is a problem among the middle-aged as well as among young people. But young adults are the most likely to drink very heavily on an occasion – in a study of Victorians aged 16-24, more than 50% of the males reported drinking more than 20 standard drinks at a time on some occasions.
He noted that current strategies to reduce alcohol problem rates differ in their effectiveness.
“There is no question that much more can be done to reduce the risks of alcohol consumption in Australia,” he said.
“Though often politically popular, measures such as voluntary industry codes, alcohol education in schools and public service messages are largely symbolic and ineffective.
“Unfortunately, the more effective strategies are opposed by powerful alcohol marketing interests, so generating change is difficult.”
At the Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference today Professor Room will outline a list of 10 “best practice” alcohol control policies that Australia should consider, including reducing the number of outlets that sell alcohol, reducing trading hours for pubs and clubs, and reviewing the minimum legal age to purchase alcohol.
“When it comes to alcohol policy in Australia, what is politically feasible is often ineffective, while what is effective is often politically difficult,” he said.
“Public opinion is shifting towards supporting more effective measures so pressure is slowly building to do something, but our politicians will only act when there is enough pressure to counter the influence of those who want to keep on selling to the heavy drinkers.”
Cancer Council SA Chief Executive Professor Brenda Wilson welcomed Professor Room to Adelaide for the conference and says there is a clear link between alcohol and cancer.
“There is overwhelming evidence highlighting the link between alcohol consumption and cancer,” she said.
“Drinking alcohol increases the risk of several types of cancers, including mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel and liver cancer.
“While alcohol is seen as socially acceptable, most people are unaware that it is actually a class one carcinogen.”
The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference, hosted by Cancer Council SA, continues in Adelaide today where leading cancer experts from around the country and overseas are sharing their latest research findings to help inform future population health strategies aimed at improving diagnosis, and reducing cancer prevalence and distress within the community.