New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that alcohol related deaths increased during the first pandemic year. This increase happened while the five top causes of death all decreased.
- The data show an 8.3% increase in Australian deaths caused by alcohol from 2019 to 2020. This was 108 additional deaths.
- The rate increase is largely due to conditions associated with long term alcohol use, including liver cirrhosis.
- In 2019, Australian women experienced a death rate equal to the highest death rate due to alcohol in the ten year time series at 2.8 deaths per 100,000 women and a 12% increase. The female alcohol death rate was this high only once before in 2015.
- Australian men experienced a 6.9% increase in alcohol deaths. However this is neither the highest death rate or the highest increase in the time series.
There really is increasing alcohol-related problems. We’ve seen increasing hospital admissions from alcohol-related problems,” said Paul Haber, a professor of addiction medicine at the University of Sydney, as per The Sydney Morning Herald.
Paul Haber, professor, addiction medicine, University of Sydney
Exploiting the pandemic: profit over health
The alcohol industry exploited the ongoing pandemic to market alcohol even more and push people to buy and use more alcohol. A report, released last year by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, found that people in Australia were exposed to an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram during the pandemic.
When lockdown measures were announced in Greater Sydney in June this year, residents were ambushed with an avalanche of alcohol advertisements again. These advertisements have highly unethical themes, including:
- Encouraging people to hoard alcohol, using online sale and delivery;
- Marketing alcohol as a coping mechanism during COVID-19; and
- Misleading “healthier” alcohol options.
While alcohol deaths are rising, for the alcohol industry the pandemic has been a lucrative marketing opportunity. Big Alcohol sales and profits grew rapidly during the pandemic in Australia.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that,
- Australian alcohol retailers turned over $15.6 billion in sales in 2020;
- Alcohol retail sales grew only $195 million between 2018 and 2019 but soared by 27% between 2019 and 2020, growing by $3.3 billion.
As the increased alcohol death rate in 2020 shows, these massive profits of the alcohol industry come at the cost of health and well-being of the people and communities.
Movendi International has previously reported about harms to Australians due to heavy alcohol marketing and increasing alcohol use. For the first time in four years, the number of Australians who use alcohol has increased in 2020. Not only that, alcohol related ambulance callouts have also increased by 9%.
Big Alcohol practices put children in harm’s way
Australian children are exposed to harm due to online alcohol marketing and retail. As another report by FARE showed, none of the major online alcohol retailers reviewed used point-of-sale age verification to confirm age.
The alcohol industry is currently allowed to self-regulate alcohol advertising. But as the pandemic marketing has proven Big Alcohol is failing to live up to their own rules. Independent alcohol marketing regulations are urgently needed in Australia to protect people from unethical and harmful marketing.
Change is needed and people want improved alcohol policy solutions, as the recent improvements to alcohol laws in South Australia are illustrating.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS): “Causes of Death, Australia“
The Sydney Morning Herald: “Fewer suicides, but alcohol-related deaths rose in first pandemic year“