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Fresh calls to tax alcohol per standard drink

WA medical experts have backed a submission to the Federal Budget calling for alcoholic drinks to be taxed according to their alcohol content, which would increase the cost of cleanskin and cask wine and traditional ciders.

The Alcohol Policy Coalition wants the federal government to introduce a volumetric tax in what it says would create a financial incentive to purchase lower-strength alcoholic beverages.

It also is calling for a minimum floor price on alcohol to prevent heavy discounting and raise the cost of high volume, high strength products such as cask wine. Such a move was recently made in the United Kingdom.

Presently, cask wine attracts a tax of eight cents, which is significantly higher than mid-strength draught beer (20 cents), traditional cider (23 cents), full strength draught beer (30 cents), ready-to-drink products, flavoured cider and spirits (95 cents).

Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth at Curtin University, Professor Mike Daube, said Australia's alcohol tax system needed urgent reform.

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, of which Professor Daube is co-chair, also has written to the Prime Minister seeking similar changes.


"The worst of [the alcohol tax system] is the wine equalisation tax [which means] the cheaper the wine the less tax you pay," Professor Daube said.

"That's why you get 1-litre bottles of wine for $2 or less.

"In some cases wine is cheaper than bottled water. When that happens, that's just an invitation to kids and people with alcohol problems to drink to get drunk."

WA has the 10th highest consumption of alcohol in the world, with an average of 12.4 litres a year consumed per person aged over 15, according to the World Health Organisation.

Australia's national average is 10 litres per person per year.

A state parliamentary inquiry last year recommended a minimum price on alcohol, raising the drinking age to 21 and a 10-fold increase in fines for serving drunk people.

It found access to alcohol and marketing ploys were key concerns relating to the state's excessive consumption of alcohol.

Last month, the McCusker Centre and Cancer Council WA launched an independent Alcohol Advertising Review Board to name and shame companies with campaigns deemed in breach of international alcohol advertising regulations.

The board does not have the power to penalise or order certain advertising be stopped but it was hoped negative publicity would discourage alcohol advertising deemed inappropriate.

The APC, which includes the Australian Drug Foundation, Cancer Council Victoria, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre and VicHealth, said the alcopops tax introduced in April 2008 had proven that higher prices led to lower consumption.

It estimates that alcopop consumption dropped by seven million drinks a week, and total alcohol consumption by three million drinks a week.

"Yet because of the anomaly in the tax system that allows traditional ciders to be taxed like wine, these products are increasingly filling the gap left by alcopops," APC legal policy adviser Sondra Davoren said.

"Cider consumption increased 18 per cent in the year following the introduction of the alcopops tax and continues to rise."

Cancer Council WA education research director Terry Slevin said a volumetric tax was logical.

While some low strength alcohol products were already cheaper there needed to be a greater difference.

"If there's a greater price differentiation that's a greater incentive to drink a bit less," he said.

Australian Medical Association WA president Dave Mountain said the APC submission was strongly supported.

The AMA has previously requested alcohol tax reform, which had been knocked back.

Professor Daube said the volumetric tax would not be "a huge slug" on all alcohol, affecting only the cheapest varieties, and could lead to beverages such as low-strength beer becoming cheaper.

"We know that price is the most important factor in alcohol consumption in kids and in people with alcohol problems so we want to see a volumetric tax, and especially an end to those absolutely dirt cheap products, and that's when a minimum price comes into play," he said.

He believed the minimum price should be $1 per standard drink, which would see the cheapest bottles of wine rise to about $7 each, rather than $2.

Professor Daube denied the impact on distillers that heavily focused on cheap, bulk wine would be so great some would close.

"The profits might not be as great, that's true, but if you're making profits out of people with alcohol problems and issues drinking that's not a great way to make profits," he said.

"Most people I think will support a taxation system that is fair and focused primarily on reducing problems in young people binge drinking and problem drinkers.

"The people that would be affected are the people we actually want to be affected."

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