Prof Toumbourou argues the legal drinking age should be increased, with rising rates of youth violence and alcohol-related harm.
Prof Toumbourou argues the legal drinking age should be increased, with rising rates of youth violence and alcohol-related harm. B-D-S

Prof pushing for Federal Govt to raise legal drinking age

THE Victorian academic, who this week called for the legal drinking age to be raised to 21, has expressed concerns about the increasing availability of alcohol in regional areas.

Professor John Toumbourou, a researcher in youth development at Deakin University, conducted a 10-year study of 3000 Victorian teenagers which found 45% had alcohol problems by the age of 23.

In arguing the case for raising the legal drinking age, Prof Toumbourou said state and federal governments had failed to implement suggested changes to the taxation and regulation of alcohol.

"So it leaves us in a situation where we've got rising rates of youth violence and alcohol-related harm, but no solution that seems feasible," Prof Toumbourou told APN Newsdesk.

"There should be no argument that bringing in age 21 would be effective. I think the question is would it be feasible.

"I think there is some support for raising the drinking age. It's becoming more popular as a policy response and I do think there are less political costs in doing this then there might with some policy options."

Raising the legal age would not be a silver bullet, Prof Toumbourou said, but could reduce alcohol use and harm by 10-15%.

His research also threw up some alarming statistics about alcohol use in regional areas.

He said there were higher rates of alcohol-related problems - by as much as 50% - among people in their early 20s in rural areas.

"We've been studying whether or not alcohol is being used at younger ages in the non-metropolitan areas. We've found in recent times the answer to that is unfortunately 'yes'," he said.

Prof Toumbourou said the increasing density of alcohol outlets in the bush was contributing to the problem.

He said alcohol was easier to get in country areas than it was in the past - to the point where it was more available per capita than it was in cities.

It came as Western Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan used his keynote address to the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol Forum in Canberra to call for a ban on alcohol advertising in sport, arguing it "normalised and glamorised" it in the eyes of children.

Comm O'Callaghan said alcohol advertising in sport had a subliminal effect on children in that is juxtaposed images of achievement against images of alcohol, he said.

"Because it enables alcohol advertisers to get around the general code for TV advertising which means that you can't advertise alcohol on TV before 8.30pm ... because we want to shield our children from those messages, except for live sport," Comm O'Callaghan told ABC radio.

"Our kids are exposed to live sport alcohol advertising for long periods of time during the cricket and for two hours at a time during ... football and rugby."

Comm O'Callaghan said the challenge of weaning sports off alcohol sponsorship was an "enormous challenge" and would require a transition program.

He also claimed binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence had reached "epidemic proportions", and expressed concerns about a range of factors that he said led to young people engaging in a culture of "determined drunkenness", whereby young people attempt to drink as much as possible.

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