The Callinan inquiry into Sydney’s lock-out laws

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A few questions came to mind when I read that former High Court Justice Ian Callinan had been appointed to head the independent inquiry into amendments to NSW’s liquor licensing laws, including the controversial lock-out laws”.

Mr Callinan was a member of the High Court when it decided, by a 3:2 majority, that hoteliers owe no duty to use reasonable care to prevent patrons from causing harm to themselves as a result of excess drinking.  Despite the economic interest hoteliers have in encouraging patrons to drink, and to keep drinking.

The primacy of personal responsibility was clearly the over-riding value in the statement by Justice Callinan that:

Except for extraordinary cases, the law should not recognise a duty of care to protect persons from harm caused by intoxication following a deliberate and voluntary decision on their part to drink to excess [Cole v South Tweed Heads Rugby League Football Club [2004] HCA 29, at [121]].”

The lock-out laws that currently apply in the CBD and Kings Cross precincts of Sydney were neither an exercise in temperance by the NSW Government, nor a response to the fact that alcohol is responsible for 5% of Australia’s burden of disease (Australia’s Health 2016, p 59).

Rather, the lock-out laws were part of a package of amendments seeking to reduce the number of unprovoked alcohol-fuelled assaults by yobbos on Sydney streets.

For a short review of the “one-punch” reforms, see here.

The impact of the liquor licensing amendments on supermarkets and bottle shops was discussed here.

The death of Thomas Kelly, who was punched in the head during a night out in Kings Cross, was partly a catalyst for these changes.

In July, the Kelly family suffered a further loss with the death of another son, Ralph.

The injustice visited upon this family is heart-breaking, it is dizzying.

But it truthfully illustrates how alcohol-related harm spreads outwards – through families and beyond, like the ripples in a pond.

Much of that harm is externalised by the alcohol industry onto others.

What is the industry’s response?

Industry-funded “DrinkWise” public health messages/advertisements (can’t tell which) like this one, that build brand value for alcohol companies and associate beer brands with water sports.

Yep, that ought to work.

Watch out for the new “SmokeWise” e-cigarette advertisements – brought to you by Philip Morris….

 

Highlights from the Callinan report

In his report, Mr Callinan gave particular weight to the opinions and experience of police and the medical profession.  He said:

“The police and the medical profession, the latter of whom are financially and generally otherwise disinterested in the relevant issues, are strongly, adamantly, of the opinion that it is the Amendments in total and in combination that make them effective in reducing alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour in the [CBD and Kings Cross] Precincts”.

He concluded that the Precincts were “grossly overcrowded, violent, noisy, and in places, dirty, before the Amendments, but that after them, they were transformed into much safer, quieter and cleaner areas” (p 10).

Mr Callinan was dismissive of the assumption that the vibrancy of a city at night can only be measured by the amount of alcohol consumed or available.  However, he acknowledged that opportunities for live entertainers may have diminished, and that the amendments may have contributed to some closures of premises selling alcohol, and some reductions in employment opportunities:

“The Amendments have come at a cost which is not quantifiable but which should not be exaggerated to employment, live entertainment and the vibrancy of the Precincts” (p 11).

Mr Callinan did not accept that violence had simply been displaced to other areas.  In response to the usual suggestion that anti-social drinking should be addressed by “cultural change and education”, rather than regulation, he said: “Cultural attitudes are difficult and slow to change.  The legislature in the meantime has to deal with the situation as it exists” (p 6).

Mr Callinan pointed out that the lock-out laws had enabled more police to be deployed in detecting and preventing non-alcohol-related harm, rather than tying up resources (pp 8-9).

Mr Callinan stated that he regarded the 10 pm curfew as making “little or no contribution to violence and anti-social behaviour in the Precincts” (para 9.10), although he acknowledged it might contribute to domestic violence (para 9.11).

He recommended relaxing the hours of sale for takeaway alcohol at licensed premises to 11 pm, and home delivered alcohol until midnight (para 9.10).

Two of the more controversial liquor control measures included in Mr Callinan’s inquiry were the “lock out” and “last drinks” provision.

For a trial period of two years, Mr Callinan recommended a relaxation of the lock-out laws from 1.30 am to 2.00 pm, but only to enable patrons to enter those parts of premises offering live entertainment.  He recommended a further relaxation of the liquor sales cessation period, from 3.00 am to 3.30 am, but only in respect of patrons in the “live entertainment” parts of the premises.

The NSW Government has indicated it will respond to the Callinan report before the end of the year.

California raises the minimum purchase age for cigarettes and e-cigarettes

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Last week was a big week for those who think the law should have a role in helping to reduce the 6 million deaths caused each year by tobacco.

First, tobacco taxes

In 2013, the Rudd government announced a 12.5% increase in the tobacco excise to take effect over 4 years:  1 Dec 2013; 1 Sep 2014; 1 Sep 2015; 1 Sep 2016.

Scott Morrison’s 2016 budget will continue this increase for a further 4 years (2017-2020), taking the price of a pack of 25 cigarettes to around $41 in 2020.

These excise tax increases will be in addition to the usual, bi-annual indexation of excise in accordance with average weekly earnings.

As recognised by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Australia has signed, tax and price measures are a powerful, cost-effective tool for reducing tobacco consumption, particularly among young people.

Secondly, more wins on tobacco plain packaging

The European Court of Justice has upheld the right of Member States of the European Union to pass plain tobacco packaging laws that exceed the requirements for the standardisation of tobacco packaging contained in the European tobacco products directive.

The Directive includes a requirement for mandatory health warnings, comprising text and colour photographs, covering 65% of the back and front of tobacco packages (Art. 10.1).

Article 24.2 of the Directive preserves the right of member states to introduce further requirements for the standardisation of tobacco packaging “where it is justified on grounds of public health, taking into account the high level of protection of human health achieved through this Directive”.

These further measures must be proportionate, and must not be a disguised form of trade restriction.

The ruling of the Court paves the way for the UK’s tobacco plain packaging legislation (the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 to become mandatory for all tobacco products on 21 May 2017.

Following Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (Cth), plain tobacco packaging has become an export industry, with Ireland also adopting legislation in 2015.

California raises the minimum purchase age for tobacco

But perhaps the most interesting development is the creeping advancement of higher tobacco purchase laws for tobacco within the United States.

On 4 May 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 2 Bills into law that confirm California’s leadership in tobacco control.

Senate Bill No 7 prohibits the sale of tobacco products in California to persons younger than 21 years.

The Bill includes an anti-pre-emption provision giving freedom to local governments to raise the minimum purchasing age even higher.

With a republican-controlled Congress hostile to public health measures, it has fallen to local and city governments, and to States, to innovate and to protect the health of their populations.

California’s action follows the lead of Hawaii and over 125 local and city governments that have passed legislation to raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco to 21.  This trend is likely to continue, both in the United States, and possibly elsewhere.

The California Bill contains an exception for Military personnel in active duty who are aged over 18 but under 21 years.

This is not the first time U.S. legislatures have bent the rules to facilitate smoking by members of the US armed services.

California Senate Bill No. 5, also signed into law, expands the definition of the term “tobacco products” in the Business and Professions Code to include e-cigarettes, and requires retailers to pay a licence fee to sell e-cigarettes.

It requires all cartridges for e-cigarettes to be in child-resistant packaging;

It also extends the smoke-free controls applicable to cigarettes in California, to e-cigarettes – a regrettable omission in the Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment (E-cigarettes) Act 2015 (NSW).

The California Bill also prohibits selling or advertising or furnishing e-cigarettes to persons younger than 21 years.

Time to raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco in NSW?

Raising the minimum purchasing age for tobacco is a sensible next step towards a tobacco-free generation that is healthier and more productive.

Higher minimum purchasing age laws make sense, since few smokers begin smoking or become addicted to nicotine beyond the vulnerable mid to late teens and early twenties.

A 2013 study of smoking initiation rates in New Zealand confirmed that while initiation after age 24 is rare, the highest initiation rates occur among those aged 15-21 years. Over a four-year period, the rate of smoking initiation for those aged 15-17, 18-19, and 20-24 was 14.2%, 7.0%, and 3.1%, respectively.

An expert Committee of the Institute of Medicine concluded that raising the minimum purchasing age would substantially reduce smoking prevalence and smoking-related mortality, given the numerous life transitions young adults experience between 18 and 20 years.

It could also help to improve foetal, maternal and infant health, by reducing the numbers of young parents smoking.

The Tasmanian Government has released a 5-year strategic plan for health that includes raising the minimum legal smoking age to 21 or 25 as an option for consideration.

Such laws could help to reduce health inequalities.  For example, according to Tasmania’s Council of Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity, more than 33% of Tasmanian teenage pregnant women are smokers (2013 figures).

Raising the minimum purchase age for tobacco would not be costly to implement, although resources should be budgeted for its enforcement, and this includes close monitoring and evaluation of its net effects.

Think about it.  Will there be any parents, including smoking parents, who wish their child had been able to buy smokes on their 18th birthday?

Conversely, how many 30 year olds – facing the economic challenges of life, including breaking into the property market – will be thankful they missed the bullet of nicotine addiction and aren’t now making generous weekly donations to Australia’s tobacco giants?

Are you interested in studying health law?  Sydney Law School offers a Graduate Diploma and a Masters degree in health law that is open to qualified applicants.  For further details, click here, and here.

A short review of the NSW Government’s “one-punch” alcohol control reforms

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In February 2016, former High Court Justice the Hon. Ian Callinan AC QC was appointed by the NSW Government to review the effectiveness of the “lockouts” and the 3am liquor sales cessation period on the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct, the Kings Cross precinct, and potential displacement areas.

Mr Callinan will also consider the impact of the 10pm closing time for bottleshops, with a particular focus on rural and remote communities.

These are perhaps the best known “one punch” alcohol controls introduced by former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s government following a number of highly-publicised assaults by alcohol-affected persons on Sydney streets.

 

Why did the NSW government act?

In July 2012, 18 year old Thomas Kelly was walking with his girlfriend down Victoria Street, Kings Cross, when he was punched in the face.  It was an unprovoked attack.  He fell back, cracking his skull on the pavement.

His life support system was turned off two days later.

Ralph Kelly, Thomas’ father, told the media his son’s life had been finally taking off”, after difficult times at school, with the good news of a cadetship with a Sydney accounting firm.

The young man who threw the punch, Kieran Loveridge, was sentenced to 4 years for manslaughter.

The Crown appealed on the grounds that the sentence was manifestly inadequate.  The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal agreed, extending the minimum sentence to ten years.

In December 2014, Loveridge’s application for leave to appeal to the High Court was refused.

Thomas Kelly was not an isolated incident.

For example, Daniel Christie hit the pavement just metres from where Thomas Kelly fell, after being fatally punched on New Year’s Eve 2013.

Fady Taiba spent 19 days in a coma after refusing an intoxicated man entry to Bar 333 in September 2013.

34-year old Brazilian Lucio Stein Rodrigues was killed by a “ferocious” punch outside a pub in the CBD in November 2013.

Between 2000 and December 2013, 90 people were killed in this way, by a single blow to the head.

 

Preventive alcohol controls prior to the “one punch” alcohol laws

According to John Green, from the NSW Branch of the Australian Hotels Association, “It’s not good enough anymore to use hotels as whipping posts…We need to target those thugs in the community who think it is OK to pre-fuel and hit people.”

But how exactly do you “target thugs”, before – rather than after – they become violent, without burdening the service of alcohol?

Three “preventive” controls are worth mentioning.  These controls were already in place when Thomas Kelly, Daniel Christie and others like them hit the pavement.

Firstly, s. 198 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) authorises police to give “move on” orders to people who are drunk in public.

In 2011, Parliament introduced the offence in s 9 of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).  This is an offence for continuing intoxicated and disorderly behaviour, following a section 198 order.

According to the NSW Ombudsman, over a 1 year period (October 2011-September 2012), NSW police issued 110,949 formal orders to intoxicated persons. 33,580 were orders issued under s. 198.

Secondly, under s 206 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, police can detain an intoxicated person who is behaving in a disorderly manner, or in need of physical protection due to their intoxication.

Finally, the NSW Government had already introduced “three strikes” legislation, which imposes “strikes” when a licensee or manager commits one of a number of serious offences in relation to an alcohol licence.

After a third prescribed offence, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority can decide whether to impose a third strike, and thereafter to cancel, suspend or impose additional conditions on a liquor licencee’s license.

Preventive laws have taken different forms since 2014.

 

The NSW Government’s “one punch” alcohol reforms

Five reforms are worth noting; for a broader discussion of the government’s response, see here.

Firstly, the Government introduced sections 25A-25B into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).  Section 25A is a new statutory offence for an assault causing death.  Section 25B imposes a minimum mandatory custodial sentence of 8 years for this offence if the accused had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 (3 times the legal driving limit).

Amendments to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (s. 138G) authorise police to detain and require a person to undergo breath testing (within 2 hours of the alleged commission of this offence), or to give a blood or urine sample at a hospital, within 4 hours of the alleged commission of this offence.

In 2014, a Bill (the Crimes Amendment (Intoxication) Bill 2014) was introduced to create a number of additional aggravated intoxication offences, with a minimum period of imprisonment for each offence.  However, it was never passed.

Secondly, changes to the Liquor Act 2007 and its regulations introduced the idea that a geographic area can be declared to be a “prescribed precinct” (s 116C).  The Act then sets out the kinds of restrictions the regulations can impose on premises within a “prescribed precinct” (s. 116I).  These may include:

  • Restricting use of glasses or breakable containers;
  • Prohibiting or restricting sale of certain kinds of liquor;
  • Prohibiting patrons from entering licensed premises at certain times (ie “lock outs”);
  • Requiring incident registers to be kept;
  • Requiring licensees to contribute to the costs of measures to prevent violence and alcohol-related harm in the precinct.

Additionally, the Liquor Act 2007 and Liquor Regulation 2008 set out a number of specific controls that apply to the Kings Cross Precinct, and the Sydney Entertainment Precinct, respectively: these take effect as licence conditions applicable to licencees within each precinct.

The most significant controls that apply to the new CBD precinct are the “lock out” and liquor sales cessation periods.  These are discussed separately below.

Thirdly, the Liquor Act authorises a police officer to issue a temporary banning order that prohibits a person from entering or remaining on specified licensed premises within a prescribed precinct for up to 48 hours (s. 116F).

Fourthly, the Act provides the basis for payment of risk-based licence fees by liquor licensees.  Fees are set by taking into account the location of the premises, its trading hours, patron capacity, offences committed, and compliance with licence requirements (s. 58A).

Click here for an overview.

The final control included in this short review is the 10pm closing time for bottle shops and other take-away retail liquor establishments: s 12(1C) of the Act.  This was discussed in a previous post.

 

Lock out and liquor sales cessation controls

There are 7 categories of liquor licence in NSW.  Taking the Sydney CBD precinct as an example, under ss 53Y-53Z of the Regulations, the lock out and liquor sales cessation restrictions apply specifically to hotels, clubs, high-risk venues (including large hotels which operate after midnight), and premises to which a “level 2” licence applies (due to previous incidents of violence).

The “lock out period” is defined in s 3 of the Regulations to mean after 1.30am until the beginning of the standard trading period the following day.  During a lock out period, new patrons may not enter the premises, although patrons can remain on the premises, and leave at any time.

During a liquor sales cessation period, hotels, clubs and high risk venues must not sell liquor.  The liquor sales cessation period” is defined to mean between 3am until the beginning of the following day’s trading period.

Additional controls apply to after midnight trading (the general late trading period) in respect of declared venues with a history of alcohol-related violence.  For example, glasses must be removed from patrons and drinks cannot be sold in glasses during the late (after midnight) period.

During the general late trading period, venues within the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct are also prohibited from selling certain kinds of alcoholic drinks (see Regs s. 53ZB).  These include:

  • Shots (any drink designed to be consumed rapidly);
  • drinks containing more than 50% liquor;
  • any ready to drink beverage containing more than 5% alcohol by volume, and
  • drinks containing more than 30ml spirits.

However, these restrictions do not apply to cocktails.

During the late general trading period, no more than 4 alcoholic drinks, or the contents of one bottle of wine, may be served to the same patron.

This requires licencees to keep tally of the number of drinks sold to any one patron.

Under s 53ZE, licencees of premises within the CBD Precinct must keep a “round the clock” incident register.  Where a violent incident does occur, the licencee must preserve and keep the area where the incident occurred intact (s 53ZF).

S 53ZG also requires licencees to exclude entry to people wearing clothing or symbols of a number of motorcycle clubs such as the Bandidos, Gypsy Jokers, or Rebels.

 

Are NSW’s one-punch laws working?

One man who has seen it all is Dr Gordian Fulde, head of emergency at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, who was named Senior Australian of the year in 2016

Decades ago, nobody would punch a nurse”, he says.  But these days spitting, punching and kicking are common occurrences.

Dr Fulde is the lead author of a recent paper in the Medical Journal of Australia comparing emergency presentations to his hospital’s emergency department before and after the one-punch reforms.   The study confirms that presentations for alcohol-related serious injuries are much higher during the “high alcohol time” from 6pm Friday to 6am Sunday.

This study also found that after the introduction of the one-punch laws in 2014, there was a 25% reduction in patients presenting with serious alcohol-related injuries during the high alcohol period.  The authors note: “The reduction was most marked in the period after midnight, which corresponds with the main thrust of the changed regulations”.

According to a study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the one-punch reforms were associated with an immediate 32% reduction in the number of reported assaults in Kings Cross, and a 26% reduction in assaults in the Sydney CBD.

These reductions suggest that changes to alcohol trading hours – including lock-outs, liquor sales cessation periods, and bans on late-night take-away liquor sales – are part of an effective package for reducing alcohol-related violence.

However, as with tobacco controls, it may be difficult to definitively quantify the specific contribution of each measure and to link it to reductions in violent assaults.  It is the overall impact of the package of controls that speaks.

Recently, a grassroots organisation called “Keep Sydney Open” have opened a petition to the Premier, Mike Baird, to remove the lockout and last drinks laws.

What is their solution to unprovoked attacks by alcohol-affected young men who are angry at the world?

“We demand smarter solutions — a holistic and lateral approach to preventing assaults which examines transport, CCTV, tougher sentencing, density and diversity of licensed premises, venue management, culture as a placating tool and the tendency towards violence among certain groups of individuals.”

CCTV, tougher sentencing, freezes on new licences?  These are not new ideas, as a glance at the Act and Regulations illustrates.

“Culture as a placating tool”?  What do they have in mind here?

The uncomfortable truth is that Australia’s alcohol culture is partly created by the easy availability of alcohol, the ubiquitous nature of alcohol advertising, and the relative affordability of alcohol (availability, advertising, and price).

Lawmakers may find it more difficult than they would hope to meet community expectations about safety from unprovoked, alcohol-fuelled assaults without relying on laws that burden the business of service of alcohol, and impact indirectly on levels of alcohol consumption.

Are you interested in studying health law?  Sydney Law School offers a Graduate Diploma and a Masters degree in health law that is open to qualified applicants.  You do not need a law degree to apply.  Click here for further details.  And click here for more information about Sydney Law School’s health law team.

Upcoming Conferences: Governing Food

Governing Food

Governing Food: The Role of Law, Regulation and Policy in Meeting 21st Century Challenges to the Food Supply

Dates: Tuesday 1st November – Thursday 3rd November 2016

Venue: Sydney Law School

Sydney Health Law is hosting the Governing Food Conference in November this year, in conjunction with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and with sponsorship from The George Institute for Global Health.

 Governing Food will bring together researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines to explore the role of law, regulation and policy in promoting a healthy, safe and sustainable food supply. The conference will be opened by a public keynote address on Tuesday the 1st of November, to be delivered by Professor Corinna Hawkes from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London. The main days of the conference will be Wednesday the 2nd of November and Thursday the 3rd of November.

The call for abstracts and further details about the conference can be found at this address. You can also contact Dr Belinda Reeve in relation to any questions about the conference: belinda.reeve@sydney.edu.au.

We hope to see you there!

 

ABAC Complaints Panel won’t consider complaint about Diageo Australia spamming 3 year-old with Bundaberg Rum video-advert

It’s official.  Spamming children with alcohol advertisements does not breach the ABAC Code, the alcohol industry’s swiss-cheese voluntary standard for alcohol advertising regulation.

The Chief Adjudicator of the ABAC Complaints Panel has ruled that the Panel will not consider a complaint about Diageo Australia spamming a 3 year-old with a Bundaberg Rum video-advert when she clicked on a Dora the Explorer video on a children’s YouTube channel.

The decision by Chief Adjudicator the Hon. Michael Lavarch AO confirms that otherwise unobjectionable alcohol advertisements do not breach the ABAC Code simply because they appear on children’s websites.

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I made the complaint to ABAC in September 2015 after the ads shown here appeared on a Dora the Explorer YouTube channel.

Fairfax press reported on the issue here.

Inexplicably, the Advertising Standards Bureau lost the complaint for 3 months, but finally found it again and forwarded it to Mr Lavarch.

Mr Lavarch’s letter can be found here.  He wrote:

“Your complaint is based upon the alcohol advertisement being placed on the YouTube channel prior to your daughter watching a programme that was clearly for younger children. The complaint however does not go to the content of the advertisement but is based solely upon the issue of where the advertisement was found.”

Mr Lavarch wrote that the complaint would “not be referred to the Panel for a determination as it raises only the issue of placement of an alcohol marketing communication rather than its content”.

In explaining his decision, Mr Lavarch referred to a previous determination of the ABAC Panel in 2012 (complaint 118/11)  where the ABAC Panel dismissed a complaint about an ad for Crown Lager appearing on a children’s website aimed at 3-8 year olds.

Despite not forwarding the complaint to the ABAC Complaints Panel, Mr Lavarch indicated that he would raise the complaint with the ABAC Management Committee for consideration.

In my view, this is a test for the integrity of the Management Committee, which is dominated by alcohol and advertising industry associations.

Why did a Bundaberg Rum ad run on a toddler’s YouTube channel?

Mr Lavarch indicated he had made inquiries of the advertiser (Diageo Australia) about how the Bundaberg Rum ad came to be running on a YouTube channel devoted to young children’s content.  This is where it gets interesting.

…Google thought you were an adult

Mr Lavarch’s letter conveys the advice of Diageo that “YouTube only serves this advertiser’s advertisements to users who are logged in to the Google platform that are aged 21+”.

I take this to mean that in Diageo’s view, I was logged into Google, and Google (which owns YouTube) assumed that the relevant YouTube channel was being accessed by an adult.

In fact, at the time, I was logged out of Google, and out of YouTube.

Even so, why should that make a difference?  Many computers used by children will be logged into Google or YouTube 24 hours a day.  Wouldn’t it be smarter for alcohol advertisers to keep away from children’s content, and to limit their alcohol advertising to websites that are age-restricted to adults?

Would Google/YouTube and its advertisers rely on the same arguments (you were logged into Google, so Google thought you were an adult) if advertisements for sex services were streamed on YouTube channels devoted to children’s content?

…You were accessing an unauthorised or pirated video

Mr Lavarch also relayed  from Diageo that “it seems that in this case the video was not an authorised, licensed, or verified video on YouTube and therefore YouTube would not have identified it as children’s content.”

This argument strikes me as self-serving.  As the photos on this blogpost illustrate, the Dora video in question was hosted by Super Dora Games, a YouTube channel with >62,000 subscribers and more than 54 million views.

Check it out.  Is it really so unreasonable to expect ABAC to hold Australian alcohol advertisers accountable when they advertise on sites like this?

This isn’t the shady backrooms of the internet, and I do not accept that children’s content websites should be fair game for alcohol advertisers.

Diageo’s assertions are not entirely consistent with advice received from the office of the Hon. Mitch Fifield MP, Minister for Communications, reported in an earlier post.  Google advised the Department that:

“[U]nfortunately [Diageo’s advertisement] was not correctly labelled as an alcohol advertisement, and Google’s other measures to identify inappropriate advertising content did not pick it up”.

The “other measures” comprise the following:

  • “alcohol advertisements are only shown to users that are logged in and who are aged 18 years and older;
  • Google excludes content that is family friendly;
  • Publishers have to opt in to show alcohol advertisements on their video content”.

So what really happened?

It’s difficult to know.  At the end of the day, Diageo Australia spammed a 3 year-old watching content appropriate for toddlers, but that doesn’t even breach the voluntary Code that Australia’s largest alcohol companies, hand on heart, have pledged their allegiance to.

Plugging the holes in the cheese

Mr Lavarch’s letter conveyed advice from Diageo Australia that the following measures have been implemented by its media partners (Google/YouTube?) to prevent similar occurrences:

  • Development of a list of ‘safe’ channels that Diageo content may appear on. All of the channels on the list are 18+ with content vetted to ensure no appeal to minors.
  • Development of a list of key words that should flag any potential areas of appeal to minors. This list ensures Diageo’s advertising will not appear alongside any content that is tagged or titled with these words.

These assurances sound constructive, but they also raise some new questions.  Is the list of channels ‘safe’ for alcohol advertising a private initiative by Diageo, or are all Australian alcohol advertisers adopting it?  Is the list publicly available?

The photos you see above illustrate that spamming children with liquor advertisements on children’s content websites is a real issue, not a hypothetical one.  In my view it would now be appropriate for the ABAC Management Committee to plug one of the holes in the ABAC cheese and to include a provision that prohibits Australian alcohol advertisers from advertising alcohol to children who are accessing age-appropriate content online.

The Alcohol Advertising Review Board, an initiative of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Cancer Council WA, administers a voluntary Placement Code that includes the following provision:

“Alcohol Advertisements shall not appear online in connection with content that appeals or is likely to appeal to Young People.”

The alcohol industry could only object to a provision like this if it was unwilling for its members to be held accountable for spamming children and adolescents with alcohol advertisements when they are accessing material online that is of particular appeal to them.

If Diageo and other advertisers have taken steps to ensure that something like this won’t happen again, then they shouldn’t have any problems with updating the ABAC Code accordingly.

The bottom line

Unfortunately, Mr Lavarch’s response illustrates that at the present time, complaints about alcohol advertising to children – to the extent that they raise the issue of placement – are being invisibly eliminated from the ABAC complaints system, confirming the impression that there is no problem to begin with.

Complaints like mine no longer make it through to the full Complaints Panel.

If a purely voluntary code is the best way of regulating alcohol advertising in Australia, then it’s time for the Management Panel to amend the Code so that advertisers are required not to advertise in connection with content that appeals or is likely to appeal to young people.

Is the ABAC Management Panel just a club dominated by alcohol and advertising interests, or can they act in the public interest to protect children from alcohol advertising?

We’ll see.  This issue may have a while to run yet.

In the meantime, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has released a new alcohol policy which is strongly critical of Australia’s current regime for alcohol advertising regulation – including the ABAC Code.  The recommendations about alcohol advertising are worth quoting in full:

“Recommendations:
1. That the current self-regulatory approach to alcohol advertising in Australia and New Zealand should be changed to include statutory restrictions, including the enforcement of costly sanctions for breaches of the advertising code.
2. That the sponsorship of sporting events by the alcohol industry should be prohibited in Australia and New Zealand as a first step towards a model of alcohol advertising regulations which would phase out all alcohol promotions to young people.
3. That the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code should be amended to introduce mandatory warning label requirements for alcoholic beverages, with specific guidelines on the placement, size, colour and text of the label so they are visible and recognisable; and a strict timeframe put in place for its comprehensive implementation.”

Are you interested in studying health law?  For more information about our Master and Graduate Diploma in Health Law, click here.

Dancing on Christopher Hitchens’ grave? The tricky business of talking about consequences

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Vanity Fair, February 2004

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A “pro-smoking blogger for the libertarian right”  accuses me of “dancing on Christopher Hitchens’ grave”.

And other stuff.

Christopher Snowdon is a Research Fellow for the UK-based Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that receives tobacco funding.  He is an opponent of plain tobacco packaging, keeper of the pure flame of libertarianism etc.

My sin – contained in a paper forming part of a symposium on public health regulation and the “nanny state”, was to reflect on a self-confessed “crime spree” Hitchens took in New York City  in late 2003.

During the course of an autumn day, Hitchens broke as many of the city’s “petty ordinances” as he could, particularly its smoke-free laws.

At the time, Michael Bloomberg was in the second year of his first, 4-year term as NYC Mayor.  He went on to serve 3 full terms, introducing tobacco control laws that saw the adult smoking rate fall by 28% between 2002 and 2012, and the youth smoking rate fall by 52% between 2001-2011 .

Which is a terrible result, if you’re a tobacco company, but a magnificent result for New Yorkers – with changed life trajectories and longer, healthier lives for hundreds of thousands of people.

You can read about Michael Bloomberg’s public health legacy here.

Apparently embittered at the constraints on his smoking, Hitch lashed out, reflecting on the “shriveled core of the tiny Bloombergian mind”, and ending with:

“Who knows what goes on in the tiny, constipated chambers of his mind? All we know for certain is that one of the world’s most broad-minded and open cities is now in the hands of a picknose control freak.”

The editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, who at the time was being serially fined by the NYC Health Department for flouting its smoke-free laws and smoking in his office, published the whole account.

Then, in June 2010, at the height of his powers, Hitchens announced he had cancer  of the oesophagus.  As one journalist wrote, “The celebrated drinker and smoker who once claimed that “booze and fags are happiness” had succumbed to a cancer most often associated with drinking and smoking.”

Hitchens died less than 18 months later.

Like his hero Hitchens, Snowdon believes that smoke-free laws are anti-libertarian.  The mind boggles at this point, given that globally, one in ten people who die from tobacco are non-smokers who are unintentionally harmed (poisoned) by smokers….

However, to my mind the more interesting theme that excites Snowdon is the question of whether Hitchens’ diagnosis challenged his libertarian convictions.  Snowdon assumes that the rationale for discussing this issue was to concoct some sort of contrived, deathbed confession:

“Magnusson clearly thinks that Hitchens got his comeuppance when he died of cancer and wants to believe that he renounced his principles on his death bed.”

The record shows that Christopher Hitchens castigated those who promoted effective tobacco control, yet spoke frankly and publicly about his own cancer, acknowledging that it was probably caused by his smoking and drinking.

Hitchens made his choices, and talked about them freely.  He made his private life a public matter.

So we have permission, I think, to talk about Hitchens – who I suspect would have approved of being the topic of conversation.

“I’ve come by this particular tumor honestly”, he told Anderson Cooper on CNN in August 2010.  “If you smoke, which I did for many years very heavily with occasional interruption, and if you use alcohol, you make yourself a candidate for it in your sixties.” “I might as well say to anyone who might be watching – if you can hold it down on the smokes and the cocktails you may be well advised to do so”.

Cooper responded “That’s probably the subtlest anti-smoking message I’ve ever heard”.

“The other ones tend to be more strident”, Hitchens replied, “and for that reason, easy to ignore”.

“Even if this weren’t incredibly tasteless” Snowdon writes, “Magnusson could hardly have found a less fitting person to use as an example.”

Snowdon seems to think that the point of discussing Hitchens is to trip him up on his words, seek to make an object lesson out of him, or worse, to gloat.

But there are other reasons why Hitchens’ account of his illness is worth reflecting on.

Certainly, it was a compelling story. Statistics are easy to brush off: just ask a smoker.  But stories are a little harder.

Here comes this libertarian prophet – as sure as any libertarian ever was about the infantilising effect of public health laws – suddenly forced to come face to face with his own premature (and probably preventable) death.  Did he have conflicting feelings, second thoughts?  It’s not an unfair question.

“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be”, Hitchens wrote  in 2010, “I have very abruptly become a finalist….In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends … .[F]or precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair … . Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married?  To watch the World Trade Center rise again?

Through his story, we catch a glimpse of the public interest that public health laws and policies are intended to protect.

The public interest in tobacco and alcohol control laws does not exist for the sake of some abstracted, disembodied “public”, but ultimately for the sake of all those individuals who might otherwise die prematurely, or just as frequently, as Simon Chapman writes, live long in distress and isolation due to the disintegrating impacts of their illness.

Bloomberg’s tobacco control laws were intended to help prevent the kind of death Hitchens died.  To say that is not to gloat.

Consequences tend to be trivialised or absent when libertarians set out their plans for how the world ought to be.

The narrative we tend to get is the one written by the be-suited Hitchens in 2003, flying through Central Park with his feet off the bicycle pedals, witty, cancer-free, not the man 7 years later, who writes  “The chest hair that was once the toast of two continents hasn’t yet wilted, but so much of it was shaved off for various hospital incisions that it’s a rather patchy affair. I feel upsettingly de-natured. If Penélope Cruz were one of my nurses, I wouldn’t even notice”.

How should public health advocates talk about consequences?

In the United States, gun enthusiasts have become so highly proficient at ignoring consequences that anyone who dares link the most recent gun-related massacre [insert dates & details] with that shocking, leftist, evil thing called “gun control” – is howled down for seeking to “politicise a personal tragedy“.

Plenty of compelling stories, it seems, but never a teachable moment.

But for the rest of us, prevention matters because people matter.  Their needless suffering or death is relevant to how we evaluate the wisdom of government actions, laws and policies.

The nanny state conspiracy theorists overstate their case.  Hitchens’ freedom to make choices about smoking, drinking, diet and lifestyle were his for the taking.  No one stood in his way.

Hitchens had no Damascus conversion over tobacco, or anything else for that matter, but his public expressions of regret were no less powerful for their subtlety.

[Interview between Anderson Cooper (CNN) and Christopher Hitchens, 6 August 2010: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=385×492527 (transcript);  http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/07/video-extended-interview-hitchens-on-cancer-and-atheism/ (video).]

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Bundaberg Rum and Dora the Explorer: the reality of alcohol advertising in Australia

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A brief commercial break, then on with the show…

My 3-year old daughter loves Dora the Explorer.  She thinks that bossy little know-it-all, Dora, is really cool.  She used to be frightened of The Swiper, but that changed as she grew older.

Last night, I sat her down in front of a laptop and let her watch an episode of Dora on YouTube.  Right away an ad filled the screen for Bundaberg Rum.  Bundaberg Rum is a brand owned by Diageo Australia.  All of this happened mid-evening, before 9pm.

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This is the reality of alcohol advertising in Australia.  Liquor ads, bought and paid for by Australian drinks manufacturers, streamed online with children’s content.

It’s not unlawful.  It’s business as usual.

This is the kind of thing the Alcohol Advertising Review Board draws attention to in its latest report.

A product review by a 12 year-old for Vodka Cruiser Pineapple Passion Punch 2L, on the Dan Murphy website (owned by Woolworths). Johnny Walker and Smirnoff ads screened in cinemas  before “Minions” – an animated film, rated PG.  Alcohol ads plastered over bus stops outside schools (see p 17 of the report).  And so on.

If you don’t want your pre-schooler exposed to liquor ads while watching age-appropriate material online, what are your options?

First stop: The Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC).  According to ABAC, “The ABAC Scheme is the centrepiece of Australia’s quasi-regulatory system and is administered by a Management Committee which includes industry, advertising and government representatives.”

The ABAC Code and complaints scheme are not legally binding, but members of the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia are signatories.

The ABAC Code places few real constraints on signatories, but it enables the alcohol industry to claim that alcohol advertising is regulated responsibly, at no cost to government.  Which would be great, if it were true.

The ABAC Code places no restrictions on the placement of an alcohol advertisement.

If you’re a drinks manufacturer who wants to advertise on the internet – including on websites that carry or are even devoted to children’s content – the ABAC Code has no problem with it.

For example, when Crown Lager ads appeared on a “Bratz” games website (and check out the URL to see what I mean ), the complaint was dismissed  because the ABAC Code was designed not to apply to the placement of alcohol ads.

An independent complaints scheme, the Alcohol Advertising Review Board, points out the limitations of the ABAC, and administers its own Codes, with help from a panel of lay members located around the country.

The Content Code is constructed from provisions in existing alcohol advertising codes from around the world.  The Placement Code, however, “features provisions by which the Board considers the placement of alcohol advertising should be governed”.

The Placement Code contains the following provisions:

1. Placement: General

Alcohol Advertisements should not be placed: (i) in places or at broadcast times where Young People are exposed or are likely to be exposed; or (ii) in connection with content that appeals to Young People.

8. Internet

Alcohol Advertisements shall not appear online in connection with content that appeals or is likely to appeal to Young People.

As a parent, those constraints appear entirely reasonable to me.

By the way, you have to love the “Drink Wise” logo in the second screen shot above.  You probably missed it.  After all, it was designed to be missed.

For further comment on this in the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax press, click here.

A Fairfax video reporting on this blogpost, containing the images included in this post, has now been added to YouTube.

AdNews has reported that Diageo has suspended all media across the YouTube platform while it investigates the matters raised above.

This incident provides an interesting opportunity to test the limits or otherwise of the ABAC Code.  Accordingly, I have submitted a complaint.

Are you interested in studying health law?  For further information on Sydney Law School’s Master of Health Law and Graduate Diploma programs, follow this link.