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World Health Organisation warns against drinking booze in pandemic

The latest liquor retailing industry report from IBIS World released in May shows the pandemic has not dampened alcohol sales, with revenue expected to increase to $12.5 billion this financial year, in line with pre-COVID-19 projections.

Senior IBIS World analyst Matthew Reeves said revenue from online beer, wine and liquor sales, the fast-growing segment of the booze industry, was expected to rise by 16 per cent in 2019-20.

Panic buying in March caused an “unprecedented” 40 per cent spike in booze sales, the IBIS World report said, followed by a 36 per cent fall in April, bringing sales for the month 15 per cent below April 2019 levels. Total alcohol consumption was expected to increase in 2019-20.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Caterina Giorgi called on all governments to limit alcohol delivery late at night and ban “aggressive marketing” from companies on social media “that mention using alcohol to cope during COVID”.

“What we’re hearing is that some people are drinking to cope with stress and anxiety and we know that’s one of the worst things that you could be doing,” she said.

“We don’t think there’s a good reason for alcohol companies to be pushing a couple of bottles of vodka into someone’s house at 10 o’clock at night.”

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Ms Giorgi advised drinkers to keep within the official guidelines of no more than four standard drinks in one day and no more than 10 standard drinks in a week.

Alcohol Beverage Australia chief executive Andrew Wilsmore said while the industry supported the WHO’s move to discourage “harmful levels of drinking”, most Australians were drinking responsibly.

“Warning against drinking altogether is clear overreach and not supported by the evidence or reflective of cultural norms in which the moderate consumption of a beer, wine, spirit or cocktail is sensibly enjoyed by the majority of Australians,” Mr Wilsmore said.

He pointed to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, released last month, which indicated that while 14 per cent of Australians had increased their alcohol consumption during the lockdown, 47 per cent said their drinking had not changed.

A further 10 per cent of people surveyed said they were consuming less alcohol and 30 per cent were either abstaining or drinking only small amounts.

“Of those who are drinking, they are overwhelmingly consuming in moderation at around eight standard drinks a week – well within the official advice,” Mr Wilsmore said.

He said the WHO’s European statement should be “read within national context”, saying Australia had a more strictly regulated alcohol industry than many European nations.

Mr Wilsmore said alcohol consumption was only damaging to the immune system “at excessive or harmful levels” and that light to moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial.

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