Likes: Beer. Dislikes: Liberty.
Almost two-thirds of us, and nearly half of our secondary school students, binge drink each year. It is estimated that 600 to 1000 New Zealanders die each year from alcohol related causes. Approximately one-third of all Police apprehensions involve alcohol and half of serious violent crimes are related to alcohol.
Now, I like beer. I drink beer often, and I agree with Joe that alcohol can “manageable” and “enjoyable”. But we have an attitude problem: the misuse and abuse of alcohol is socially acceptable, if not valorized.
As Desley is correct to point out, our attitudes to alcohol are created and sustained by much greater forces that just alcohol advertising. The use and abuse of alcohol in film, television and music all contribute to this problem. And censorship of these vehicle for expression is something no-one is considering here. Nor should we.
But we should still ban alcohol advertising.
Although alcohol advertising is not the leading culprit in creating and sustaining unhealthy attitudes to alcohol (it may be barely in medal contention after popular culture and retail advertising take gold and silver). But alcohol advertising is nonetheless still a culprit.
As Sarah argues, alcohol adversing presents drinking as a consequence free activity. And it is exactly on this territory that the current cultural battle is being fought. The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) runs adds - “its not what we’re drinking, its how we’re drinking”, “nice one munro”, “I can’t remember” and “ease up on the drink” - that attempt to combat the attitude that drinking is consequence free. Then, in the same add-break, we have bourbon-drinking Agent Mulder (or Hank Moody) telling us that the “streets are paved with possibility”.
And yes, as Dan notes, we ought to be to be precious about the way we present drinking. It is fine for the Garnier Fructis range to over-promise the benefits of shampoo because I can see no social harms that follow from attitude that ‘it must be truly wonderful to be able to keep my hair straight for up to seven washes’.
So, (if you agree with me so far) we have identified a harm. But you’re right to doubt the gravity of the harm. Surely, the minor role that alcohol advertising plays in contributing the social ills isn’t enough to ban alcohol advertising altogether?
Yes, it is, and so we should still ban alcohol advertising.
This is because it contributes to a problem, without contributing - really - anything else except market share for breweries. We all agree that the alcohol advertising does not work to increase the overall consumption. One of the main reasons for this is because there is no information gap between the product and the consumer. We know what beer is, we know that it is a bit fizzy, a bit malty and a bit hoppy. And so on. Advertising is not going get us to buy a product we wouldn’t otherwise not have brought but for the information in the advert.
Alcohol advertising works to shift consumers between producers of the same product. So the battle between “yeah right” and “good on you mate” is for the market share of medium priced beer.
The “yeah right” and the “good on you mate” adds are run to make Lion Nathan or Dominion Brewers more profitable (and we can’t blame them, it is their job to be profitable).
But its that really that important? We should permit alcohol advertising because Lion Nathan ought to be able to compete in an add war against Dominion Brewers whilst inadvertently undercutting the efforts of ALAC?
Herein lies the background problem. We ask that opponents of expression to identify a harm. When opponents of expression identify a harm, we then make a qualitative assessment as to how important it is to avoid the harm. Yet, we don't hold proponents of expression to the same scrutiny; we assume that proponents of expression are protecting something worthwhile.
Here, alcohol advertising contributes to a problematic social attitude towards drinking and we apparently put up with this because battle between “yeah right” and “good on you mate” is somehow worthwhile. It suggest that it is not.
*Jesse is a post-graduate student studying at the University of Oxford.