Online liquor sales are being targeted by public health advocates, who’ve linked 30-minute alcohol delivery to Australia’s rising suicide rate.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education has made a submission to the Productivity Commission review into mental health, calling for recognition of the “role of alcohol in suicide”.
FARE chief executive Michael Thorn has cited research showing that alcohol was present in 40.6% of completed suicides, homicides or sudden deaths in NSW alone.
Thorn said a proliferation of online alcohol vendors delivering alcohol within 30 minutes had contributed to the problem.
Tony Gill, an addiction medicine specialist at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney, told the Sydney Morning Herald there was “absolutely no doubt that alcohol abuse is associated with suicide” and that online sales were a problem.
“We’ve seen patients at St Vincent’s who are hardly able to walk, but they can order alcohol,” he said. “It’s really terrible.”
“Whenever you increase the availability of a drug like alcohol then you’re going to get more problems associated with it,” he added.
FARE said regulators haven’t kept up with the rising use of alcohol delivery services.
Alcohol Beverages Australia spokeswoman Kerri Osborne said the issues affecting suicide were “complex” and included biological, psychological, social and environmental factors.
“ABA would support addressing the underlying complex issues affecting suicide by focusing on the community and its needs in a targeted way to improve outcomes for specific people,” Osborne said.
NAAPA wants to suspend online alcohol sales in NSW
Earlier this year, the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) called for a moratorium on all online liquor licences.
The coalition – which has members including NSW Australian Medical Association, NSW Police Association, Cancer Council and Thomas Kelly Foundation – wants stronger regulation of the online alcohol industry.
NAAPA called for a moratorium on all online liquor licences pending a review of the online and alcohol delivery market; the strengthening of RSA conditions for online deliveries that would require companies to display licence details on websites selling alcohol; and the introduction of a 12-hour delay on the delivery of online orders.
It also wants a ban on buying alcohol via AfterPay or similar ‘buy now pay later’ services; and make online alcohol deliveries next-day only.
According to NAAPA “these measures would assist law-makers to address the rapidly growing online alcohol market, which, according to IBIS World, is expanding at the rate of 11% per year”.
“There are more than 500 online-only liquor outlets, which is a 10-fold increase in the past decade, in addition to the growing number of ‘bricks and mortar’ outlets offering 30-minute home delivery services,” added FARE’s Michael Thorn.
“There are gaping holes in the state’s regulation of the fast-growing market of online alcohol sales and delivery, with glaring under-regulation around responsible service of alcohol (RSA) and proof of age controls.
“The online market is poorly controlled, making it easier for underage and intoxicated people to access alcohol, leading to more harm to drinkers and those around them,” he said.
Retail Drinks issues online liquor sales warning
Last month, Retail Drinks Australia advised all online liquor retailers to be vigilant about online alcohol delivery and sales and conduct thorough self-audits of their use of third-party websites to ensure ongoing compliance with relevant state and territory legislation.
Retail Drinks CEO Julie Ryan said that the fundamental principles of responsibility and compliance should be at the forefront of all online liquor retailers’ practices, because the liability for non-compliance sits with the retailer and not the marketplace.
“Retailers should always take a great degree of caution in ensuring that their practices adhere to the relevant liquor legislation in all the states and territories in which they operate, especially concerning online alcohol sales and deliveries.
“Retailers cannot rely on representations of compliance from third-party websites, and we are actively working with several members to provide clarity on their obligations in each state and territory.”
This warning follows concerns raised by liquor retailers earlier this year regarding the use of eBay by BoozeBud, an online retailer owned by AB InBev’s, ZX Ventures, to sell certain CUB products.
Retail Drinks met with representatives from eBay and outlined the key concerns for liquor retailer compliance, including that in certain states and territories (such as South Australia and Tasmania) there is a requirement that a date of birth must be entered at the time of the transaction to purchase alcohol online, however this can be bypassed using eBay’s guest checkout facility.
eBay immediately confirmed its intent to work collaboratively towards ensuring that retailers will be able to use its online liquor marketplace in the future.
“Following discussions with Retail Drinks, eBay committed to upgrading their product systems by the fourth quarter of 2019 in order to comply with all state and territory legislation,” Ryan said.
“We were really pleased with eBay’s commitment to demonstrating compliance and we look forward to their site being upgraded later this year so that liquor retailers can again use their marketplace with confidence.”
Retail Drinks is currently in the process of developing a comprehensive Code of Conduct governing online alcohol delivery and sales.
“The Code is being developed in close consultation and collaboration with various industry and government representatives and will serve as a robust, best-practice and fit for purpose framework allowing retailers to participate in this space in a responsible and compliant way,” Ryan said.