Since 2006, Australia has had graphic image warnings on cigarette packages. Now announced this week, the liquor industry is volunteering to label its products with health warnings also. About 80% of alcohol sold in the country will carry the warnings.

According to government statistics, the proportion of people drinking at high risk level has increased from 8.2% in 1995 to 13.4% in 2005, when the last National Health Survey was conducted. The increase has been greater for women.

DrinkWise Australia, a group funded by the alcohol industry is leading the charge as it states that the average Australian starts drinking alcohol at 15 1/2 years of age and more than a quarter of 14-19 year olds are putting themselves at risk of harm at least once a month.

Binge drinking is a problem especially during “Schoolies Week,” marking graduation from high school and often associated with turning 18, the legal age for drinking. Binge drinking often leads to fights, drink driving and unwanted sex.

Drinking too much on a single occasion of drinking means drinking significantly more than the recommended level for adults of four standard drinks on any one occasion. Binge drinking also refers to drinking continuously over a number of days or weeks, occasional and irregular bouts of heavy drinking or drinking so that you can deliberately get drunk.

Ian Hickie, executive director at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, said alcohol disrupts brain development, which is at its most intense between age 12 and 20.

Trish Worth of DrinkWise Australia states:

“We see physically mature teenagers and assume that their brains are mature, but they are not. We have to challenge ideas that are so traditional and historic in Australia.”

The voluntary move comes ahead of an expected government decision later this year to make warnings mandatory, similar to the ones in some 14 other countries including the United States.

Hickie adds:

“Our teenagers think they are bulletproof. What is sad in Australia is that the campaign against alcohol is being led by police. We need to have a wider discussion in the community. The DrinkWise campaign might precipitate a discussion.”

The DrinkWise Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix campaign has also received a major boost with new research confirming that parents have more influence on the drinking behavior of young teens than they perhaps think. In addition, retailers have agreed to support the campaign by making available at the point of sale information for parents about the risks alcohol poses to the developing brain.

The research, conducted by researchers at La Trobe University, Monash University and the University of Newcastle, examined the scientific literature on the influence of parents and siblings on children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol.

The study found that for adolescents, the most accurate indicator of future alcohol use is current alcohol consumption patterns and that current alcohol consumption is one of the better predictors of later-life regular drinking patterns.

Australian leadership has not always set the best example either. Former Prime Minister Robert Hawke once held the Guinness World Record for downing two and a half pints of beer in 11 seconds, and former cricket legend David Boon is best known for a 1989 flight from Sydney to London during which he drank 52 beers.

Sources: DrinkWise Australia

Written by Sy Kraft