PM says binge drinking an epidemic across Australia

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said binge drinking in Australia has reached "epidemic" proportions and action needs to be taken to combat the growing problem of alcohol abuse.

Mr Rudd says police across Australia have expressed their concerns that alcohol abuse lies at the core of increasing spates of urban violence.

He has already had talks with the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, about what might be done.

The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation have welcomed the PM's comments and say they represent a breakthrough with regard to the recognition of the scale of the problems created by alcohol abuse in Australia.

A recent survey carried out by the group found 1 in 10 Australians had been frightened by a drunk during the festive season.

The foundation's chief executive, Daryl Smeaton, says no prime minister has said anything like this before.

Mr Smeaton says the estimated toll of alcohol abuse has doubled in the past eight years to $15 billion along with a hike in demands upon the police to deal with alcohol-fuelled problems which is believed to account for as much as 80 per cent of police work.

It is estimated that 7.5 million working days are lost each year because of alcohol.

David Templeman, the chief executive of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia says over 85 per cent of people who present at hospital emergency departments needing immediate treatment have some form of alcohol related cause.

Mr Templeman says alcohol is the number one drug of concern given the harm, the costs and the impact on the community, with 3,000 people in Australia dying annually as a result of some form of alcohol related disease, another 10,000 people receiving on-going treatment and another 1,000 in hospitals and other treatment areas on a daily basis.

Mr Rudd has said he is concerned about what appears to be an epidemic of binge drinking across the country which is not good for young people's health.

The PM says the only effective response must be done in partnership with the states and territories, who must work out together what is appropriate action.

The new Labor government has already promised to establish a national preventive health taskforce to investigate unhealthy behaviours including excessive drinking.

The taskforce will develop a national preventive health strategy but would initially focus on the increasing burden of chronic disease caused by alcohol, obesity and tobacco.

Mr Rudd's call for action on alcohol appears to have the backing of most political groups and Family First leader, Steve Fielding, who already has Senate approval for an inquiry into alcohol promotion, and poker machines says he will ask all state police commissioners to inform the inquiry on the impact of the alcohol toll.

He has introduced two bills into the Senate to tackle both problems, including a ban on alcohol advertising on television before 9pm and health warnings on alcohol labels.

The legislation would require advertising to be approved by a government body and outlaw ads that linked drinking to personal, business, social, sporting, sexual or other success.

Senator Fielding says there is a community groundswell of support for both issues, and he has confidence that Mr Rudd will act on alcohol and pokies.

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