Australia: Big Alcohol Targets Women During COVID-19
Big Alcohol targets women specifically during the COVID-19 crisis in Australia and data show more women are consuming alcohol during the pandemic.
Early reports of Australians consuming more alcohol during COVID-19 brought concern that the country will face even higher alcohol problems with the pandemic. However, recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest overall, alcohol consumption remained relatively stable during April. Around 14% of Australians reported increased use of alcohol in the previous month.
However, the data show women are consuming more alcohol during the current public health crisis. Reportedly, 18% of women increased alcohol use in the previous month, compared with 10.8% of men.
Preliminary results from the COVID-19 mental health survey presented in an article in The Conversation are similar to the above data. Out of 1,200 Australians surveyed, in April a significantly higher proportion of women had increased their alcohol intake: 31.8%, versus 22.5% of men.
Another survey conducted by ABS showed 17% of women reported an increase in alcohol consumption – compared with 11% of men – from mid-March to late April.
Unhealthy coping mechanism
Women tend to consume alcohol for different reasons than men. Aligning with global trends young people and young women in Australia are consuming less and less alcohol. However, women who are middle aged and older are consuming more alcohol. Data from 2016 showed that women in their 50s were more likely to consume alcohol heavily than young women, for the first time in history.
The alcohol norms with middle aged to older women are partly the reason for this harmful trend. The idea of using alcohol to “cope” with distressing situations, challenges and hard days is normalized among women of this age group. This norm, fueled by deliberate alcohol industry messages, is driving women to consume more alcohol during the COVID-19 crisis as women are experiencing more stress and anxiety during the pandemic.
Australian data show loneliness has been more of a problem for women (28%) than men (16%) during this past month under lockdown. Caregiver load has also been a source of stress, with women almost three times more likely than men to be looking after children full-time on their own during COVID-19.
Women are taking on more caring responsibilities, their finances are more likely to be impacted and they are at even greater risk of family violence – all of these stressors contribute to increased alcohol use,” said Caterina Giorgi, CEO of FARE, as per Adelaide Now.
At the same time, alcohol companies are aggressively marketing to women, particularly through social media.”
Women are also likely to be facing and dealing with family and domestic violence during the COVID-19 isolation.
Younger female workers are also disproportionately affected by the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19. Women make up a majority of the casual workforce making them highly vulnerable at this time.
With the added stresses and anxiety, the unhealthy norm of using alcohol to cope can drive women to consume more alcohol.
Big Alcohol pushing for increased alcohol consumption
Big Alcohol is doing everything they can to add to the alcohol norm and push alcohol on women. The alcohol industry employs various strategies in Australia to increase alcohol consumption. This is despite the World Health Organization (WHO) advising to restrict access to alcohol during COVID-19 due to its physical and mental health harms including weakening of the immune system.
Big Alcohol uses several strategies to push their products on people during COVID-19. These include:
- Digital marketing,
- Home delivery,
- Discounts and giveaways,
- Bulk purchases,
- Placing alcohol as a necessity,
- Promoting “healthier” alcohol, and
- Using the COVID-19 pandemic for marketing.
A study of alcohol advertising by ListenFirst social analysts found Facebook, Twitter and Instagram activity was 326% higher in March compared with the same time a year ago. Big Alcohol is using this increase in social media activity to manipulate people and specifically women into buying more alcohol.
Movendi International previously reported on a study conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and Cancer Council WA on alcohol advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. The research monitored an individual’s Facebook and Instagram feeds for one hour on a Friday night and found:
- 107 sponsored alcohol advertisements were displayed on a personal Facebook and Instagram account.
- This equates to approximately one alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds.
One online alcohol ad every 35 seconds was received by one female social media user during isolation. More than half of these ads were pushing “easy access to alcohol without leaving home” and drinking alcohol to cope, “survive” or feel better.
Australian researchers will now be studying 500 women about their alcohol consumption and exposure to alcohol advertising.
It is particularly important right now for us to understand the impact of alcohol advertising on women and if this contributes to them [using alcohol] more, so that our findings can help influence public health policy,” said Ms. Jessica Thomas, a Flinders University PhD researcher, as per Adelaide Now.
Alcohol delivery is already burdening Australia. Now with the pandemic and its challenges alcohol delivery coupled with digital marketing stands to further increase harm in the country. Alcohol ads on social media often have a ‘Shop now’ or ‘Get offer’ button linking directly to an online store, making alcohol more available and accessible to all. Alcohol companies and liquor retailers are promoting free delivery, including delivering ‘directly to your door’ and ‘contact-free delivery’.
Some major problems with alcohol delivery include inability ensure not delivering to those under legal age of alcohol use and those who are already intoxicated. Delivery during the pandemic and adding ‘contact-free delivery’ worsens this problem.
Research by VicHealth show that,
- A third of people who use on-demand services were given alcohol without their ID being checked, including around a quarter of people aged 18 to 24;
- 71% of weekly users said they regularly received their orders despite being intoxicated; and
- 1 in 10 had orders left unattended and 15% of respondents said their order was collected by someone else.
Discounts and give-aways
Big Alcohol companies promote discounts and giveaways to entice people into buying more. Companies promote “saving” money on the first order, or when people spend over a certain amount. Research from the University of Wollong shows that discounts and giveaways encourage people to buy more alcohol.
Alcohol ads often encourage bulk buying of alcohol with messages saying to “stock up” and by selling 12-bottle packs of alcohol. Other tactics are applying free delivery or discounts only to bulk purchases or when a minimum amount of spending is reached.
Positioning alcohol as a necessity
Alcohol ads are positioning alcohol as a necessity during this pandemic. By selling ‘red wine survival packs’ or asking if people need ‘extra wine’ to get through lockdown, Big Alcohol is pushing the unhealthy alcohol norm of coping with the ongoing stress, anxiety and challenges of the crisis through self-medicating with alcohol.
Promoting “healthier” alcohol
Alcohol companies are increasingly using terms such as ‘vegan’, ‘natural’, and ‘organic’ to describe alcoholic beverages. These types of terms are usually used with healthy products and to describe healthy lifestyles. By using these terms Big Alcohol is trying to make alcohol seem more healthy. This tactic is especially used to target youth such as millennials who are consuming less alcohol for health reasons and Gen Z, the young generation who is consuming the least amount of alcohol in history.
Using the COVID-19 pandemic for marketing
Some Big Alcohol companies are aggressive and perverse with their messaging. Directly telling people to consume more alcohol while in isolation at home with messages such as ‘lockdown happy hour’, ‘confinement sale’, or to ‘wine from home’.
These strategies are highly unethical specially during the current pandemic considering that alcohol is known to weaken the immune system, making people more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications.
The WHO has outlined why alcohol increases risk of COVID-19 in a recent publication on COVID-19 and alcohol FAQs.
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