Corporate social responsibility, anyone?

Here’s something to ponder. What organisation would encourage young people under the age of 18 to drink alcohol?

Before you answer, consider Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council recommends people are best advised to avoid alcohol for their first 18 years, at least (NHMRC 2009).  That is due to alcohol’s potential adverse effect on a young person’s physical intellectual and emotional development.

So it won’t be any government body that recommends young people drink under 18 years. And it won’t be an organisation that represents parents. Parents tend to prefer advice that improves their children’s chance of keeping safe, avoiding harm, that sort of thing.

Well, we’re sure you guessed it. Yes, it’s DrinkWise, the PR body set up to offer the alcohol industry a human face to thrust before government while it goes about its real business. DrinkWise is infamous for its ambiguous messages that appear to promote ‘responsible drinking’ while offering a different meaning to particular targets. Very much like the US tobacco companies that ran an antismoking campaign for teenagers with the message that ‘smoking is for adults’. Funnily, more kids started smoking.

You might wonder why the alcohol industry needs a separate body to promote ‘responsible drinking’ – why don’t they do it themselves if they are committed to it? And use that huge advertising budget, plus the sponsorship budget splurged on sport and youth events? That’s another embarrassing question; but not as embarrassing as the answer.

Try DrinkWise’s latest offering – a campaign that is aimed at school leavers with the message “Drink Properly.” Sounds reasonable? Yet many school leavers are still under 18 years of age – and considered by medical researchers as too young to drink. Parents and young people seem to agree for the latest national survey in Australia shows the age of initiating drinking is rising in Australia – more teenagers are delaying drinking until they are older.

DrinkWise is likely to be the only organisation in the world that is telling underage people to drink alcohol. And what does “Drink Properly” mean? Many teenagers think it means “getting smashed”, or “hammered.” The DrinkWise Schoolies advertisement offers this advice: “pace yourself” and “avoid passing out”. Great. Really helpful. Notice how DrinkWise does not give young people any real practical advice about ‘pacing’ or how to avoid passing out.

In contrast the NHMRC gives that help to adults with the advice that 4 standard drinks is the maximum number of drinks that an adult can consume on one occasion and remain reasonably safe from harm.

That would be the least advice DrinkWise would give school leavers if it was serious about responsible drinking, but somehow, DrinkWise never provides that crucial, practical advice about the number of standard drinks that equates to “low risk” or “responsible” drinking.

The DrinkWise staff, the DrinkWise Board and the DrinkWise Ambassadors might like to ponder that permanent absence in the advice they give not only young people but the entire population of Australia.

The idea that DrinkWise is “encouraging a safer, healthier drinking culture” is a fiction that is made obvious by its current campaign urging school leavers to drink.