The Sidney Morning Herald, by Dana McCauly, September 10 2019

A social media trend for “Instagrammable” alcohol like pink vodka, purple gin and craft whisky has been blamed for a 7 per cent spike in Australia’s consumption of pre-mixed drinks and spirits.

Public health experts are demanding a crackdown on digital alcohol marketing after the increase – an extra 2.5 million litres of pure alcohol in 2017-18 – was attributed in part to the online trend.

Distillers are tapping into a social media trend for coloured spirits.

Distillers are tapping into a social media trend for coloured spirits.

There are more than 6.3 million Instagram posts tagged #gin and 8.5 million #vodka posts.

Almost none feature the bland, clear liquid many Australians previously associated with those spirits; instead, a rainbow of exotic-looking beverages are celebrated.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn said the trend was worrying because spirits – which contain up to 40 per cent ethanol – had a higher “speed to intoxication” than wine or beer, making it easier to consume dangerous amounts.

“Spirit producers are the most innovative of the alcohol producers when it comes to marketing and advertising,” Mr Thorn said, citing the purple gin trend as an example.

Alcohol manufacturers had shifted the majority of their marketing spend to unregulated digital platforms, he said.

The spike in pre-mixed alcohol and spirits, revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Monday, marks the reversal of a longer-term trend of declining consumption over the past decade – attributed to the former Labor government’s “alcopop” tax.

Mr Thorn called for stricter regulation of social media advertising to prevent a return to previous levels of consumption and the associated problem of binge drinking.

He said the decline of premixed “alcopop” beverages – a fall in consumption of 39 per cent over a decade –  may have bottomed out, enabling producers’ marketing efforts to gain traction with consumers.

Pre-mixed alcoholic drink manufacturers have expanded their product lines to include new flavours and some have engaged social media influencers to help promote their brands.

Mr Thorn said the federal government had also made it easier for small distilleries to open, creating a new market for “craft” spirits.

Alcohol Beverages Australia chief executive Andrew Wilsmore said the “bigger picture” of the ABS data was that while alcohol consumption per capita was steady, “Australians are still drinking at 50-year lows”.

“The data still shows a long-term decline in consumption which means the vast majority of Australians are enjoying alcohol responsibly and in moderation,” Mr Wilsmore said.

“The small rise in consumption of spirits reflects the growing number of boutique distilleries and cocktail bars which has led to increased choices for consumers.”

A Senate committee will examine Australia’s approach to preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, after Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff moved to establish the inquiry on Monday afternoon, timed to coincide with International FASD Awareness Day.

FASD is a term used to describe severe neurodevelopmental impairments resulting from brain damage caused by alcohol exposure before birth, including difficulties with physical activities, language, memory, learning and behaviour.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government was committed to preventing “lifelong harms to an unborn baby from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy” and was investing in prevention, screening and diagnosis of the incurable disorder.

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