In response to the temporary limits on takeaway alcohol purchases introduced by the WA Government to reduce the burden of alcohol on health services, industry representatives lobbied to have the limits lifted and replaced by their own voluntary initiative that allowed the purchase of much larger quantities of alcohol (around 150 standard drinks per person per transaction).
While it was disappointing that the state-wide limits were removed within several weeks of their 25 March introduction, we were heartened that the WA Premier recognised the preventable harm caused by alcohol, noting that, “Alcohol related issues take up an enormous amount of resources in our health system. These are resources we simply cannot afford to spare during the COVID-19 situation.”
If you’ve been using social media recently to connect with your friends, family, and communities from a distance, chances are you’ve seen ads for alcohol products. Possibly many ads.
A colleague recorded 107 sponsored alcohol ads displayed on their personal Facebook and Instagram account within just one hour on a Friday night in April. That equates to around one ad every 35 seconds.
We identified the main messages within the ads and found that many were promoting known risk factors for harmful drinking, including buying more, drinking to cope, and drinking regularly at home. Some alcohol companies urged us to drink alcohol to feel better during isolation with ‘survival wine packs’, ‘lockdown happy hour’, and an ‘ISO-6 pack’ to “bring a little joy to folks holed up at home”. One of the most common messages across
these ads was that you could get easy access to alcohol without leaving your home; ads encouraged us to ‘wine from home’, to ‘Stay in. Drink up’, and to take advantage of free, ‘contactless’ delivery, direct to your door.
In WA, services selling alcohol online have established themselves and begun growing their market before appropriate regulations are even in place to minimise the risk of harms. In keeping with a recommendation of the last Liquor Act review, we’re aware that regulations are being developed to specify criteria relating to the delivery of packaged alcohol.
We don’t yet know how comprehensive the regulations will be. However, there are several issues we hope the regulations will address with some urgency.
First, there must be adequate age-verification at the point of purchase and point of delivery/collection to prevent underage access to alcohol. There should be no unattended delivery of alcohol at any time.
Second, there should be adequate delay between purchase and delivery of alcohol to prevent enabling the continuation of a drinking session.
Third, alcohol should not be delivered late at night, when alcohol harms tend to increase.
And fourth, government agencies must proactively monitor and enforce compliance with the regulations and apply penalties for non-compliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that a sharper focus is needed on several alcohol policy gaps that were already apparent pre-pandemic. It was already clear that the existing system of advertising self-regulation was failing to provide adequate protections; alcohol marketing during the pandemic only reminds us why the industry cannot be trusted to regulate their own advertising.
The situation over recent months has also highlighted the urgency with which we need to address the harms associated with drinking at home, in particular the risks of alcohol home delivery.