UNSW Sydney researchers call for tougher laws for online alcohol sales to prevent 18-year-olds from having easy access to alcohol.
According to UNSW, tougher standards are required to prevent 18-year-olds and people with an alcohol dependency from purchasing alcohol ‘at the touch of a button’.
The study, which was conducted by the University of New South Wales, examined sales, marketing and delivery practices of the 65 most popular online alcohol retailers in Australia.
Despite believing that the websites followed stringent standards similar to other modes of alcohol supply, UNSW discovered that online standards were not as tough.
Published in Drug and Alcohol Review, the results found that 69% of websites advertised a willingness to leave alcohol unattended at an address without having verified the purchaser’s age.
UNSW requests that face-to-face age verification should be mandatory to meet the same minimum RSA standards as physical liquor sales and to prevent alcohol sales to minors.
The researchers revealed that 81.5% of websites offered discounts and there was no requirement for delivery drivers to hold Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification.
Other issues that arose include fast and free delivery, cheap prices and “buy now, pay later” schemes each enhancing the appeal of buying alcohol online.
“The regulations are very, very lax online. The fact that online alcohol is accessible to minors, intoxicated persons can just get a top-up and it’s so easy to access cheap alcohol, at any time from any location, are all major concerns,” said co-author Professor Robyn Richmond, of the UNSW school of public health and community medicine.
Within its results, the UNSW claimed that Australian online alcohol sales are a rapidly growing market yet regulations have fallen behind as a result.
Co-author Stephanie Colbert said: “This is creating new problems around minors accessing alcohol, the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons and easy access to cheap alcohol – from $2.88 for a 750mL bottle of wine, which is cheaper than a cup of coffee.
“We suggest that to reduce harmful drinking and financial stress among vulnerable customers, such as people with an alcohol dependency, ‘buy now, pay later’ services must be banned as a payment option for buying alcohol online.”
Following the study, Colbert has received ‘innumerable’ targeted promotions and as a result said further research was needed to better understand how aggressive online marketing tactics influenced the purchase and consumption of alcohol.
The findings of the study were disputed by industry body Retail Drinks Australia. Retail Drinks CEO Julie Ryan said: “Any evaluation of the online alcohol sale and delivery sector must be done in conjunction with a thorough review of retailers’ delivery practices, as the online website is only half of the transaction.
“Attempting to evaluate online alcohol sales solely on the basis of a desktop audit of websites and without any reference at all to the delivery environment leads to vastly inaccurate conclusions, which is the case in the UNSW study.
“With the combination of state and territory liquor legislation and regulations, the Retail Drinks Code and the significant focus of the liquor industry on responsible practices, there is no basis to state that the existing regulatory scheme is inadequate and no study has been produced to the contrary.”
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