Sip, slop, slap: let’s stop drinking like it’s 1969
How times change. When I started working in an office a little over 20 years ago, you could still smoke at your desk. In fact, when you were shown the stationary cabinet on your first day in a new job you could kit yourself out with a stapler and sticky-tape dispenser as well as an ashtray.
In those days, ‘smoking or non-smoking?’ was an everyday question when checking in for an airline flight’, you watched the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup over summer and the Winfield Cup over winter and the back cover of almost every women’s magazine carried an ad featuring an attractive blonde, a beach, acres of cheesecloth and a packet Alpine.
At about the same time blokes would go to the beach in the middle of the day, shirtless and hatless, while women would lay for hours baking themselves to a golden brown while occasionally basting themselves with coconut oil. Sun protection was not standard work issue for workers out of doors and sunshirts and sensible hats had the same sartorial appeal as sandals with long socks.
They were lifestyles that gave us the leading cause of preventable death and one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
Consider how these deeply entrenched cultures have changed in less than one generation and how the changes have occurred. Smoking rates have fallen by over a third as smokers are pretty much socially ostracised and must sneak off to dark corners to indulge their habit as governments gradually tighten restrictions on where and when people can smoke. This has been done while simultaneously introducing a more and more aggressive tax regime making it a cost prohibitive habit. The next steps that are being mooted could see governments banning smoking in public and sending smokers to the back of hospital waiting lists.
Over the same period being ‘sun smart’ has become much more common place. Broad hats, sunscreen and sun-smart shirts are to be seen every day on the beach and, while not exactly the height of fashion, are widely accepted in the same way that bike helmets are. This change has not been brought about by banning people from beaches during the middle of the day, or arresting parents who let their kids outside without a hat. It has been the result of long-term education and awareness campaigns that has seen a generation educated about the potential dangers of prolonged sun exposure from a young age.
With growing medical evidence that the “safe” level of alcohol consumption is lower than has long been thought (and, perhaps, hoped), pressure is mounting on governments to change drinking behaviour to reduce the long-term health impacts of Australian’s love of a drink. At the same time, a supposed crisis amongst our youth, apparently manifesting itself as an orgy of alcohol-fuelled violence, glassings and general debauchery is driving a sense of urgency to the state and Federal governments’ actions.
In many ways alcohol is at a crossroads at the moment. In responding to the pressure being placed on it, government can go one of two ways. It can follow the general path that has successfully taken the Australian love of the beach, the sun and the outdoors and made us more aware and responsible while still embracing it as a big part of our national identity. Or they can treat it like smoking and essentially try to ban it and shame those who continue to drink.
My fear is the loudest calls seem to be for using the anti-smoking route as the model with a general move towards prohibitionist action rather than education and awareness.
The problem with this path is that with smoking ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’ but with alcohol there are safe levels of consumption and, at those levels, it can and does play a positive role in many of our lives.
While education has seen the iconic bronzed Aussie feature less and less as part of our national identity, our love of the beach and the sun remain very much a part of our way of life. We just slip, slop and slap and try to avoid the hottest part of the day. In short, we do it more responsibly. We wear hats and sunscreen and teach our children to do the same.
This should be the model for our approach to alcohol. Become more responsible in our approach, but continue to enjoy the finest things about it.
While behavioural change is needed, prohibition is neither needed nor the way to achieve this end. And, as history shows us, it would fail.
One for the weekend
Christmas Cheer Redoak Boutique Brewery - from www.redoak.com.au
With Christmas starting to intrude upon our consciousness, it’s time to spread a little Christmas beer. While, for many, a pale lager is the drink of choice on a hot Christmas Day, this festive beer from Sydney microbrewery Redoak is well worth considering. A dark ale flavoured with spices from the brewer’s Grandmother’s Christmas cake recipe, this beer tastes of cinnamon and nutmeg and is quite literally Christmas in a bottle.
It’s the perfect beer for after the Christmas lunch, either with or instead of the Christmas pudding. For the dedicated lager drinker, it may sound a little odd but give it a try. It will change your perception of what beer is. Available at good speciality bottle shops or online from the brewery.
Read all about it
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