The COVID-19 pandemic has brought focus to the importance of good health in families, communities, and society. And now, all around the world governments, professionals, activists and communities are discussing and creating ways to recover better from the pandemic.
But in Australia the products and practices of the alcohol industry are a major barrier to pandemic recovery and good health of citizens.
As Movendi International has reported, in 2020 Australian alcohol sales and use increased sharply.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that alcohol retail sales increased by 27% between 2019 and 2020, growing by $3.3 billion.
- Roy Morgan reported, a 7.9% increase in online alcohol sale in Australia.
- In 2020, for the first time in four years the number of Australians consuming alcohol increased. An additional 316,000 Australians consumed alcohol in 2020 compared to 2019.
This boom in online alcohol retail and on-demand delivery in Australia is having life threatening consequences on people. Latest data from ABS showed an 8.3% increase in Australian deaths caused by alcohol in 2020, compared to 2019.
“Jimmy Brings Alcohol” is an alcohol delivery service owned by Endeavour Group, promising alcohol delivery within 30 minutes. The company is currently being investigated for the death of one of their customers.
Endeavor Group is a Big Alcohol giant in Australia. The largest part of its business is ALH Hotels, which owns approximately 30% of pubs across Australia. Other business entities include Cellarmasters, an online and physical retailer of predominantly wine, Jimmy Bring’s (a beverage delivery service in metro areas), Shorty’s Liquor and John Boston beers for BWS and Dan Murphy’s.
The Liquor and Gaming authority of New South Wales (NSW) is investigating the alcohol delivery service for breaking the responsible service laws of the state.
Jimmy Brings delivered almost three bottles of wine everyday to the 49 year old man living in Bondi in the weeks before he died, including two identical orders placed 10 minutes apart.
According to sources, the man spent $24,000 with Jimmy Brings on almost 300 orders in the three years before his death. The increasing number of orders prompted the regulator to scrutinize the coroner’s findings as to how he died.
Endeavour Group has released a statement saying that all drivers working under the Group, including Jimmy Brings, are trained in responsible service. The company claims to have an automated RSA system that red-flags customer orders online that could be high risk. Whether this means Jimmy Brings continued to deliver to a person at high risk knowingly or whether the system simply is not working are questions yet to be answered.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has illustrated the serious problems caused by on-demand alcohol delivery. FARE’s 2020 Annual Alcohol Poll found the majority (70%) of people receiving a rapid alcohol delivery (within 2 hours) consumed alcohol at high-risk levels, including 38% who had more than 10 standard alcoholic beverages on the day of delivery. This is significantly higher than the recommendation in the National Alcohol Guidelines.
Improved alcohol delivery laws still have loopholes
A review of more than 200 online alcohol delivery services in 2018, conducted by researchers from Northern Sydney Local Health District, found:
- Only 5% included a policy on their website relating to the delivery of goods to an already intoxicated person, and
- 60% did not require a customer to prove they were aged 18 years or older.
The recommendations from this review and a government investigation in 2020 in which deliveries were made to schools and playgrounds, sparked improvements to alcohol delivery laws in NSW. The improved laws included:
- Prohibition of same-day deliveries being left unattended;
- Mandating age verification at both the point of purchase and delivery; and
- Requiring all same-day delivery drivers to undertake responsible delivery of alcohol training.
The review’s co-author Paul Klarenaar, Director of Health Promotion at the local health district, said there were concerns about appropriate oversight of the rising number of services in the alcohol delivery industry, noting that the new rules only govern same-day delivery.
Within 2018 and 2021 the number of businesses operating under an online liquor license in NSW increased sharply from 500 to 3000. And during COVID-19 in NSW, small bars and bottle shops were allowed to deliver to homes during lockdown. This means the number of businesses operating online sale and delivery services could be closer to 12,000. But New South Wales has only 8.1 million inhabitants.
Even if the delivery drivers were properly trained in responsible service of alcohol (RSA), it would be extremely difficult to identify an intoxicated person in the brief moment of delivery compared to a bar or restaurant where the staff is constantly in touch with the customers. Nadine Ezard, the Clinical Director of St Vincent’s Hospital’s alcohol and other drugs service says even an expert would be challenged to identify an intoxicated person in the brief interaction a delivery person has with a customer.
It’s really a system designed to fail, and it’s going to fail the community,” said Professor Peter Miller from the Deakin University, an expert in alcohol-related harm, as per The Sydney Morning Herald.
Professor Peter Miller, Deakin University
Professor Miller says that alcohol delivery laws should be further improved with a two-hour wait to mitigate impulsivity, as well as limiting the hours of delivery.
Australian children put in harms way
Despite the improvement to laws, they are not preventing minors from ordering alcohol online, particularly as the new amendments only regulate same-day deliveries.
A considerable risk of underage supply remains for any liquor order placed where delivery occurs on subsequent days,” said the authors of the above review of online liquor sales in NSW, as per PHYS ORG.
Evidence is emerging, internationally and nationally, that growth in online liquor licenses has been accompanied by increased risk of supply to young people.”Jonathon Noyes and collegues
Another report by FARE found that none of the major online alcohol retailers reviewed in their study used point-of-sale age verification to confirm the age of the recipient. Meanwhile the number of visits to online alcohol retailer websites increased by 34% between 2019 and 2020.
Aggressive alcohol marketing is an additional part of the problem
The easy and wide available of alcohol in Australia through online purchase and delivery is compounded by an avalanche of alcohol advertising pushing people to buy and consume more alcohol products. The alcohol industry exploited the ongoing health crisis to heavily market alcohol to people as a coping mechanism. Previous research by FARE and the Cancer Council WA found that Australians were exposed to an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram on a normal Friday night.
Alcohol marketing is self-regulated in Australia. This means, the alcohol industry volunteers to adhere to a code of conduct set up by themselves. But the rising pandemic themed marketing demonstrates that this system is failing to protect children from alcohol marketing and the harms it causes.
Several reports recently exposed that social media companies are profiling people including children as interested in harmful products, such as alcohol. This data is then sold to alcohol industry marketers who target even minors to maximize profits.
Changing alcohol use behavior during pandemic
During the pandemic, Australian’s alcohol use behavior has changed. A recent study found that some people have increased their alcohol use, while others have decreased alcohol consumption. However, one common theme was that having a reason for alcohol use has shifted during the pandemic.
The study analyzed 59 qualitative interviews on alcohol use during the pandemic. The researchers found four overarching themes in Australian alcohol use behavior during the pandemic:
- Shifting of structures shaping alcohol use;
- The permeability of alcohol use boundaries;
- The extension of alcohol use occasions; and
- New contexts for alcohol use.
The study concludes that the pandemic has changed boundaries and contexts that would otherwise shape people’s alcohol use. This means, due to the pandemic alcohol use practices have become less bound by structures, norms, settings and rituals.
Meanwhile, heavy alcohol use to celebrate freedom from lockdown is another worrying norm popularized in Australia. Influential people, including the NSW Premier and his ministers, have irresponsibly encouraged alcohol use as a way to celebrate lockdown relaxation. This type of alcohol promotion perpetuates the harmful alcohol norm and undermines the work of public health professionals who are trying to denormalize this carcinogenic substance.
This kind of messaging is not helpful,” said Andy Moore, CEO of Hello Sunday Morning, as per Intouch Public Health.
It normalises alcohol in our society and makes it harder for people struggling to come forward and get the help they need. There are many exciting things that this freedom brings. Why does it need to focus on alcohol?”
Andy Moore, CEO, Hello Sunday Morning
Communities request common sense solutions
Australian communities, together with FARE, are calling for five common sense measures to protect citizens from the harm caused by online alcohol retail and delivery services. These measures are:
- Limit alcohol deliveries to between 10 am and 10 pm, to reduce the known risks of alcohol-related family violence and suicide, which peak late at night in the home.
- Introduce a delay of two hours between order and delivery, to stop rapid supply of alcohol to people who may be intoxicated or dealing with alcohol dependence.
- Require online age verification through digital ID checks, to ensure alcohol is not sold to children.
- Require ID checks upon delivery and ban unattended delivery, to ensure alcohol is not supplied to children or people who are intoxicated.
- Prevent alcohol companies from predatory targeting and marketing towards people who are at their most vulnerable, to protect people’s health and privacy.
The Sydney Morning Herald: “Jimmy Brings alcohol delivery investigated over Sydney man’s death”
3AW693 News Talk: “How drinking habits have changed during the pandemic“