Safe drinking guidelines not transparent nor realistic says ABA

December 8, 2020
By Ioni Doherty

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) and Spirits & Cocktails Australia have refuted the advice cited in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) revised guidelines for safe drinking.

In the new national guidelines – the first issued in 11 years – adopted by the federal government and released this morning, NHMRC recommends a maximum 10 standard drinks a week for those who want to reduce their risk of alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol Beverages Australia CEO Andrew Wilsmore said: “This is not a call for Australians to drink more but a call for transparent advice to ensure Australian men and women are fully informed of the risks based on the number of occasions they choose to drink in a week…

“Considering that Government research found that the public considered the 2009 Guidelines ‘unrealistic’, these harsher, more restrictive, less balanced and poorly targeted Draft Guidelines do not provide more hope of being found to be acceptable by the public, and arguably stand far less chance of public acceptance.

“Australians should not be made to feel guilty about enjoying a drink or a couple sharing a bottle of wine over dinner.”

Spirits & Cocktails Australia – which is a part of the ABA – issued a statement in support of the position saying the guidelines are opaque, misleading, confusing and frightening. Spirits & Cocktails Australia chief executive, Greg Holland, said:

“With the vast majority of Australians already making responsible choices about their alcohol consumption, it is disappointing to see the confusion generated by the National Health and Medical Research Council’s revised guidelines for safe drinking.

“There is simply no room for scare tactics when it comes to health recommendations.”

He continued: “Australians deserve credit for becoming increasingly responsible drinkers. There is no reason to believe they won’t continue to make safe choices – and absolutely nothing to gain by bludgeoning them with confusing or frightening half-truths.”

 By this morning, the ABA response had escalated somewhat expressing disappointment, disbelief and further questioning the very parameters on which the study was based.

ABA CEO Andrew Wilsmore said: “Australians should have no faith in these guidelines when they have cherry picked a number for a woman who drinks three days a week as the advice for all Australians. This is a serious departure from previous guidelines which provided recommendations for an individual drinking across all days of the week. 

“Had the NHMRC not set out to deliberately lower the guidelines it would be advising men they could be consuming up to 20 drinks a week if they spread their drinking out over seven days. 

“The NHMRC defends this highly suspect approach as being scientifically rigorous, but we question how this is possible when the Panel chosen to review the guidelines is hopelessly conflicted with its members representing temperance or anti-alcohol activist groups.”

Wilsmore said that the guidelines also failed to outline any benefits that alcohol can have including cardio protective effects and that Australians can consume up to 28 drinks a week and have the same risk of dying as a tee-totaller.

He continued: “We welcome guidelines, but they must be properly informed and transparent. The NHMRC recommendations help determine harmful levels of consumption and are extremely important but they must have credibility within both the health community and the public. 

“This is a missed opportunity for Australians to be fully informed on their risks of drinking alcohol on the number of days they chose to and whether they are male or female. Most Australians drink alcohol for enjoyment, relaxation, and sociability, and do so responsibly and alcohol consumption is now at a 50-year low.

Professor Anne Kelso, the chief executive of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which developed the guidelines, said they were advice, not rules.

“We’re not telling Australians how much to drink,” NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said in a statement.”We’re providing advice about the health risks so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives.”

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