Booze costs us billions: Health Minister keen on minimum floor price discussion to continue

Health Minister Roger Cook has said he's still eager for the state government to consider a minimum floor price for alcohol to reduce the costly and often traumatic harms associated with excessive consumption. Photo: Gareth McKnight.
Health Minister Roger Cook has said he's still eager for the state government to consider a minimum floor price for alcohol to reduce the costly and often traumatic harms associated with excessive consumption. Photo: Gareth McKnight.

With pressure continuing to mount on the state government, health minister Roger Cook has expressed his interest in introducing a minimum floor price for alcohol.

The Mandurah Mail recently reported a renewed push from the Western Australia Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition to implement the “important public health initiative” to reduce heavy drinking, particularly among young people.

Last week, Mandurah mayor Rhys Williams said he would also support a minimum floor price in the Peel region.

The idea of a minimum floor price was first flagged by Mr Cook in September 2017 to stop retailers selling discounted alcohol to binge drinkers.

The government has been very quiet since then.

But Mr Cook said it is still an important measure to consider in the effort to tackle alcohol abuse across the state.

“The introduction of a minimum price on alcohol in Western Australia remains of interest because of its potential to prevent alcohol-related harm and reduce pressure on our health system and the state government is keen for community discussion on this issue to continue,” Mr Cook told the Mail.

“The minimum floor price was one of a number of recommendations to address alcohol harm emanating from the WA Preventive Health Summit held in February.”

The intoxicating industry and its related harm is said to cost the WA community in excess of $3.1 billion a year.

But some of the effects are even more costly.

In 2015, there were 565 alcohol-attributable deaths in WA.

The WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition’s report included a number of alarming statistics about the devastation caused by excessive liquor consumption.

In 2012 in WA, alcohol was involved in 18 per cent of all injury fatalities, 12 per cent of injury hospitalisations and 32 per cent of injury-related emergency department presentations.

In 2012-2013, WA males aged 20-29 years were hospitalised at a rate more than triple the national average. In the same year, 33 people were hospitalised each week due to alcohol-attributable assaults.

More recently in 2017, 15 ambulances per day were called out for the primary reason of alcohol intoxication.

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Mr Cook said something had to be done to put an end to the negative and often devastating outcomes of alcohol abuse.

“Alcohol use is responsible for a range of health issues, including but not limited to: alcohol-related cancers, liver disease, mental ill-health, digestive problems and stroke,” he said. 

“In 2014, one person was hospitalised in Western Australia every 27 minutes for an alcohol attributable condition.

“There is also the social cost of alcohol which includes breaches of child safety, traffic crashes, crime, domestic violence and family breakdown.

“Reducing this harm is an important priority because it is preventable harm that affects drinkers as well as the broader community.

“If we can reduce risky drinking, we can create a healthier and safer community for everyone.”

Australian Medical Association Western Australia (AMA WA) president Dr Omar Khorshid echoed the minister’s comments.

“We know the harm that really cheap grog has on our society,” he said.

“Excessive alcohol consumption is the source of significant health, social and economic harms, particularly among young Australians.

“There are more alcohol-related emergency department presentations in WA than the rest of Australia, something that our doctors and nurses see every day.”

Dr Khorshid said it was time for the state government to prioritise the “health, welfare and safety” of West Australians.

“This will have no impact on the vast majority of people who drink socially, but it will make a difference to the heaviest drinkers and teenagers – those who are most responsive to changes in price and have the greatest harms associated with binge drinking,” he said.

“Introducing a minimum price on alcohol is an important step which will result in fewer cases of alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, hospitalisations, and tragic and avoidable alcohol-related deaths.

“The time for action is now.”

Mr Cook said the government was already taking steps towards the possible implementation of the floor price.

“The Mental Health Commission is closely monitoring the Northern Territory government's introduction of a minimum price on alcohol which commenced in October,” he said.

“Sheffield University in the UK has also been engaged by the Mental Health Commission to provide modelling specific to Western Australia about the potential health and safety impacts of various minimum prices.”

To read the full report from the WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition, visit the website.

The Mandurah Mail team will continue to develop this controversial issue with further investigation in the upcoming weeks.

What are your thoughts on implementing a minimum floor price for alcohol in WA? To share your opinion get in touch with the Mandurah Mail team via editor.mandurahmail@fairfaxmedia.com.