Highlighting the insidious alcohol practices in your community

Last week a GrogWatch reader expressed her outrage about T shirts being sold that associated alcohol with Santa in her post Big W inappropriately promoting alcohol, which got us thinking. Is it noticing and acting on these small, but insidious, alcohol practices in our community that will eventually change Australia’s drinking culture?

Changing the drinking culture is a very popular notion. At GrogWatch we like it. Everyone agrees that the alcohol culture in Australia needs changing. Health promoters, politicians, even the alcohol industry says it wants ‘culture change’ for alcohol. Maybe it’s because ‘culture change’ is the very definition of vague. What does it mean? The problem is, as long as we call for ‘culture change’, nothing needs to happen because it isn’t specific. Culture change needs content.

On the positive side the call for culture change indicates recognition that our alcohol problem is deep-seated, embedded into the fabric of daily life. It can’t be changed easily, there is no magic bullet solution; it won’t be changed by a single law, or campaign, or proclamation. But they will be necessary – laws, regulations, campaigns and proclamations will all contribute to the solution.

Culture change will follow a thousand small changes in our awareness of alcohol problems, our thoughts about alcohol, our expectations of drinking, our alcohol talk, our drinking behaviour. When I say ‘our’ of course I mean me, and you, and them, i.e. other people. Culture change will happen when enough of us determinedly alter our drinking behaviours and that will happen when we change our thinking. Sometimes our thinking will follow our change in behaviour, but that’s another story around attitudes. Even non-drinkers can play a role too.

We can all light the culture change fuse, or give it oxygen to keep it burning, in our own town or suburb.

One way of contributing to culture change is to note how alcohol is promoted, and how it is consumed, in daily life – then draw other people’s attention to it.

Some examples of things you could look at in your community are:

  • The number of bottle shops
  • Whether bottle shops promote cheap alcohol
  • The nature of advertising in newspapers – numbers, type and placement in the paper
  • Where alcohol advertisements are placed e.g. near schools, at bus stops
  • How alcohol stories are reported in the media – are people who drink a lot made into heroes?
  • Do media stories create expectations of binge drinking?
  • Whether sports clubs and schools allow drinking at children’s events

People you could express your view on these practices to include:

  • Local councillors – are elected by ratepayers and are influenced by community thinking. Due to planning and liquor licensing regulations they have some power over the number and location of licenced venues and bottle shops in your area.
  • Local MPs – they also want to keep your support. They have ultimate power over liquor licensing issues but also can influence how and where alcohol is promoted and advertised.
  • Newspaper editors – local newspapers are always looking for good, colourful local stories and always need letters to publish. They also like photos, so if you see a crass advertisement, whip out the camera/mobile phone and send it in.
  • Police – can assist in many ways. Let them know when liquor staff are breaking the law or ignoring liquor regulations, or promoting binge drinking. They can issue a ticket or at least urge restraint to managers and staff of venues.
  • School principals – should be concerned when alcohol is promoted or advertised to children. They can ensure the true effects of alcohol are explained to their students.
  • Club officials – if the local sporting club is not controlling drinking among its members remind the club it’s part of the community and has a responsibility to promote healthy practices.
  • The Australian Drug Foundation – runs the Community Alcohol Action Network in Victoria and Community Engagement Action Program in NSW and can provide further advice on how to effectively prevent alcohol-related harms.

GrogWatch also wants to hear about your experience.

What have you noticed in your town, suburb or city?

Have you mentioned it to anyone?

How did they respond? Did they agree with you?