Australia’s per capita alcohol consumption remains at its lowest level in 50 years, the latest Federal Government data has confirmed.

The Apparent Consumption of Alcohol in Australia report collates excise data, import clearance records and financial information to estimate the total amount of alcohol made available to Australians every financial year.

The latest report released in October 2023 found there were 208.8 million litres of pure alcohol available for consumption in Australia in 2019–20, a slight decrease from 210.3 million litres in 2018–19.

This represents around 10 litres per capita, which compares starkly with the peak of 13.1 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person in 1974–75.

This robust data, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), once again indicates that the vast majority of Australians are consuming alcohol responsibly.

More than that, the anchoring of consumption at around 10 litres per capita for the past decade suggests moderation has become the status quo.

Consumers are drinking less alcohol overall, opting for more sophisticated drinks and experiences like premium spirits and cocktails.

The AIHW report bears out these changing preferences, which have encouraged a lower-tempo, more responsible drinking culture in Australia.

While the apparent consumption of beer and wine decreased, spirits recorded a 19 per cent increase from 1.8 litres of alcohol per capita in 2016–17 to 2.1 litres in 2019–20.

All the evidence suggests that alcohol consumption will continue to decline long-term, given the changing drinking patterns evident among young adults.

Not just in Australia, but in similar markets around the world, younger adults are delaying their initiation to alcohol, reducing the frequency of alcohol consumption, and reducing their total volume of consumption, as well as the frequency of binge drinking. 

These trends are undeniable, suggesting the alcohol industry’s unwavering efforts to reduce incidences of problem drinking have been effective.

Australian spirits manufacturers are proud to be major contributors to initiatives like DrinkWise, which actively promotes a healthier and safer drinking culture in Australia; and The ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Scheme.

Now in its 25th year, the ABAC scheme to date has considered almost 32,000 requests from industry to have their marketing pre-vetted for ABAC compliance, with almost 5,000 of those marketing campaigns rejected before they reached the market.

Against the backdrop of falling consumption, it is perplexing that health groups have renewed their calls for cancer warning labels on alcohol beverages.

Alcohol’s relationship with cancer and other diseases is much more complex than the correlation between smoking and disease. Risks associated with alcohol consumption are not just about volume, but the pattern of consumption – frequency; episodes of heavy drinking; lifetime patterns of consumption; even whether you consume alcohol with or without food.

Further, the bulk of scientific evidence shows that consuming moderate amounts of alcohol reduces the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. 

It is impossible to distil these complex messages into a warning label that would provide meaningful and accurate advice to consumers.

Spirits & Cocktails Australia will continue its advocacy for alcohol policy interventions that are evidence-based, rather than alarmist and ideologically driven.

This article was written by Nicole Lestal, Communications & Program Manager, Spirits & Cocktails Australia, and originally appeared in the December issue of National Liquor News.

Deborah Jackson

Deb joined Intermedia in 2015 as Editor of National Liquor News and Deputy Editor of The Shout. Since then, she has also worked as the Editor of Beer & Brewer and the New Zealand title, World of Wine....

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