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Alcohol industry asked to provide sales data -

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ELEANOR HALL: A leading Australian health scientist is calling on the Federal Government to order
liquor retailers to provide accurate data on alcohol sales in Australia.

Professor Wayne Hall from the University of Queensland has written an editorial in the latest
edition of the Medical Journal of Australia arguing that the information helps to predict alcohol
related problems such as liver cirrhosis, violence and car accidents.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics does produce some information on alcohol consumption, but it's
warned it may not continue.

But the liquor retail industry says education about drinking is more important than counting sales.

David Mark has our report.

DAVID MARK: Wayne Hall, the Professor of Public Health Policy at the University of Queensland, says
he's operating in the dark.

He claims alcohol is costing the community $15-billion a year, but he argues there isn't enough
data on just how much alcohol is sold and consumed in Australia.

WAYNE HALL: We need to know because the amount of alcohol per head of population is a very strong
predictor of alcohol-related problems. Particularly things like liver cirrhosis, violence, motor
vehicle accidents and suicide.

DAVID MARK: The Australian Bureau of Statistics does collect data on alcohol.

Their series called the Apparent Consumption of Alcohol gets information from government agencies
like the tax office and customs - not from alcohol retailers.

But earlier this year, the ABS signalled the series was being reviewed and may not be published in
the future.

Now Prof Hall is calling on the Federal Government to order the liquor industry to provide
information on alcohol sales.

He says knowing how much and what Australians are drinking is in the public's interest.

WAYNE HALL: We need to know how much alcohol's actually being consumed, sold and consumed in the
Australian population.

We don't have good estimates of that at the moment. We do have survey data on what people tell us
they drink. We know that tends to underestimate consumption for a variety of reasons and probably
accounts for about 60 per cent of the alcohol that we know is sold at best.

DAVID MARK: And so you would argue, I understand, that the information that is currently available,
isn't adequate?

WAYNE HALL: No, it isn't. This data is very easily collected. The alcohol industry collect it
themselves. They pass it on to private market research companies. You can purchase the data for a
very high fee. Five or six thousand dollars to buy data that the industry, I think, as a condition
of being allowed to sell this product, should be providing to government.

I think it is as simple as that. I don't see why there should be a trade secret or restricted to
people with the capacity to pay those sort of amounts of money.

DAVID MARK: Does having better data and more data about alcohol sales, reduce the level of harm
caused by alcohol?

WAYNE HALL: Oh, I don't think it is as direct as that but it certainly provides information that
Public Health and other people can use to argue for changes.

And I think when you do see, as we have seen in New South Wales for example, some of the best
recent data has been released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics indicating rising rates of
alcohol-related assault.

If we could link that sort of data to where the alcohol is being sold, we would have a clear idea
of what sort of products were contributing to that and we could then build a case for more
restrictive policies or more targeted policies to attempt to reduce that harm.

DAVID MARK: Well, who should collect this data and who should provide it?

WAYNE HALL: I think the industry should be providing it to government and I think an obvious place
to collect it would be either the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare should be compiling this sort of data.

And it should be publicly available for public health research to assess the impact of alcohol and
of the various policies that governments state and federal are now putting in place to attempt to
reduce alcohol-related harm.

DAVID MARK: At present only the Western Australia and Northern Territory governments collect
information on alcohol sales and the Federal Government acknowledges there is quote "scope to
improve the current level of data collection".

A spokesman for the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon told The World Today the other states would
provide information on liquor sales, but said there was no compulsion only a general agreement.

He couldn't say whether the Government would agree to Prof Hall's call for the mandatory collection
of data on alcohol sales.

Terry Mott, the chief executive of the Australian Liquor Stores Association, says the Government
would be better off putting its efforts into other areas.

TERRY MOTT: I think that changing the way some people drink is much more important than counting
and measuring the overall consumption of the community.

Personal consumption and the patterns of consumption are much more important and sales data won't
give information on how much an individual has consumed on any given occasion or whether they were
purchasing for themselves or a group of people.

DAVID MARK: But why not provide the information? I mean, it is no skin off your nose, is it?

TERRY MOTT: I haven't said that we would not provide information. I am simply saying that there are
better and more pressing issues.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Terry Mott, the chief executive of the Australian Liquor Stores Association.
He was speaking to David Mark.