A column about binge drinking

I’m delighted to see that Kevin Rudd is clamping down on alcohol abuse. The demon drink has always played an uncomfortably large role in Australian social life, and its abuse should be actively discouraged, because the effects are unquestionably appalling. Binge drinking by youths is heavily linked to violence. And it’s also heavily linked to annoying teenagers in yellow plastic sunglasses becoming international celebrities.

Our Prime Minister knows all too well the folly of binge drinking. A few cheeky sherries when ‘on tour’ in New York, and next thing you know you’re in some kind of ne’er-do-well establishment where – surely your eyes deceive you – ladies to whom you do not recall saying vows of sacred marriage seem to be taking their clothes off. What can be possibly happening? Best to make sure you don’t remember any of it, and confess to Therese that you’ve been a bit of a dill.

Even more embarrassingly for an aspiring Labor leader, your night on the turps at NYC’s finest strip club was spent in the company of Col Allan, who is one of Rupert Murdoch’s trusted lieutenants. When people find out about it, as surely they must, it will make your ambition appear even more naked than those up on stage. Or dinner plans with Brian Burke.

I must confess that like our Prime Minister, I once visited Scores NYC when curiosity got the best of me at the end of a boozy dinner – it was suggested by a woman, although I don’t think that’ll exactly leave my feminist credibility intact – and all I can say is that it definitely isn’t a mistake one would make sober. Admittedly, I wasn’t officially representing Australia the UN, and this was in the days before I represented The Glebe as well, a responsibility that I’m sure you know I take just as seriously as Rudd takes himself. But still, I regret it.

All I can recall is a distinct impression that breast implants really aren’t worth the money, and that at those prices, I wasn’t entirely sure who was exploiting who. In hindsight, I would gladly have been prevented from getting into a condition where Scores seemed like a good idea by some manner of Rudd binge drinking ban. I have every confidence that if the human race stopped drinking to excess, strip clubs would no longer exist.

So if even those as morally incorruptible as Kevin Rudd and myself can fall victim to the demon drink, what hope do ordinary mortals have? One report last week said that 80% of police work is now alcohol-related, which is an appalling figure. So something must be done. But the problem is – what?

Stephen Fielding, the Family First Senator, introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year proposing a initiatives to reduce drinking. First, he wanted warning labels. I understand they’ve worked on tobacco, but I’m really not sure that they’d help on alcohol, because unlike cigarettes, a few drinks would make you laugh uproariously at the warning labels.

Then he’d restrict advertising except between 9pm and 5am, which seems sensible unless you actually have 14- and 15-year-old children, who don’t go to sleep until considerably later. Still, it can’t hurt.

Finally, he’d limit ads that link alcohol consumption to success. Which would spell the death knell for the Bundy bear, I suspect. Because if the bear isn’t helping the lads score some chicks or something, then all you’ve got is a polar bear turning up in a completely inappropriate climate – which is more a case for the RSPCA than a source of entertainment, really.

I don’t know whether advertising is linked to binge drinking, or whether more subtle lifestyle factors are at play. I suspect having VB as a sponsor of the cricket isn’t exactly helping, and nor is fiendishly brilliant promotions like the Talking Boonie/Warnie, which every teenager would want.

If research shows that ads are to blame, then by all means limit them. But even restricting alcohol to 21 in many states of America hasn’t stopped teenage binging. So the real solution is responsible parenting and education. Parents need to introduce their kids to alcohol with an emphasis on moderation, and make sure they know the dangers. Perhaps if instead of claiming not to remember, Kevin Rudd could tell a cautionary tale of the horrors to be seen at Scores. I know I’ll think twice next time I have a few drinks on a trip to New York.

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