Archive Article: Alcohol Kills More People. 11 Sep 98.
December 27, 2008
Alcohol kills more Australians per year than were killed throughout the entire Vietnam war. In NSW alone, in a recent annual survey, 141 people were killed and more than 300 were seriously injured in drinking-related accidents.
The idea of comparing the Vietnam statistics with alcohol came to me after reading a quotation from George McGovern, a former US Senator and the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (when he was beaten by Richard Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate scandal). Mr McGovern has been fond of pointing out that 125,000 Americans die every year through alcoholism, more than twice the 58,000 Americans killed throughout the 15 years of the Vietnam war.
Mr McGovern’s interest in the dangers of alcohol came in 1994, when his daughter Terri fell down drunk in a street in Madison, Wisconsin and then froze to death. She had had a long struggle with alcoholism. He is now an ardent campaigner against alcohol. His tragic experience would be similar to that of many Australians.
This has been Alcohol Awareness Week in Australia. A number of churches and secular organizations have co-operated to focus on the dangers of alcohol. There have also been activities aimed at showing that a good time can be had without recourse to alcohol. For example, Wesley Mission hosted a wine-tasting event on Tuesday, which had real wine with its alcohol removed.
Looking to the long-term, the intention is to do to alcohol what has been achieved with smoking, namely, to make it socially unacceptable. It is had to imagine that until a few decades ago, British soldiers had cigarettes as part of their rations. Now the British Government warns that smoking is a health hazard.
Similarly, it is possible to think of a time when alcohol will be also be regarded as a health hazard. Indeed, it is already recognized as such in some quarters, such as all the churches and organizations involved in Alcohol Awareness Week.
I suggest that the Australian and State Governments have a dilemma. In the US ex-smokers are now suing tobacco companies because the companies knew years ago that smoking was harmful to health – and yet they still continued to sell it. Will we reach a situation when ex-drinkers sue companies for selling alcohol because organizations like Wesley Mission were warning that alcohol was a health hazard – and yet they did little about the warnings?
The current policy of the Australian and State Governments is that there is, in effect, a safe minimum amount that people can drink. In other words, they have a policy of harm minimization – whereas organizations such as Wesley Mission have a policy of total opposition.
My guess is that the Wesley Mission policy will eventually win out, in the much the same way as no government today would claim that there is a safe minimum number of cigarettes that may be smoked.
If such litigation against alcohol companies goes ahead, will governments also be sued because they too were warned that alcohol is a health hazard and yet they did nothing about those warnings?
BROADCAST ON FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 11 1998 ON RADIO 2GB’S “BRIAN WILSHIRE PROGRAMME” AT 9 PM, AND ON SEPTEMBER 13 1998 ON “SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE” AT 10.30 PM.