Personal responsibility starts with the brewers

Another appalling road crash. Two teenagers killed with others hospitalised in serious condition. This time it’s Hawkes Bay and a late night collision near Napier on a bridge over the Tutaekuri River where a van with seven young people going home from a party collided with a car.

There are horrendous pictures and distraught faces as devastated families are trying to come to grips with the tragedy. At the centre is the all too familiar combination of alcohol, teenagers and cars.

The family of the 16 year old at the wheel of the van deny alcohol was a factor but it seems the police hold the opposite view. And who would be surprised. Young people killing themselves and others in road crashes where alcohol is a factor are a common feature of life in New Zealand.

In the coming weeks there will be much mourning the loss of these young lives and plenty of finger pointing at young people not acting responsibly when it comes to alcohol. The young driver will be held responsible and it appears the police are likely to lay charges.

We all expect young people to be responsible for their actions but just pause a moment and look what these teenagers are up against. There is a whole industry spending two hundred thousand dollars a day encouraging New Zealanders to drink more and it’s young New Zealanders who are at the sharp end of alcohol promotion.

The alcohol industry are creating new products every day to target teenage drinkers. Alcopops or RTDs (Ready To Drinks) were popularised by Michael Erceg’s Independent Liquor and are targeted at teenagers. And it’s not just boys but increasingly young girls are in the alcohol industry spotlight. These sweet drinks which disguise the taste of alcohol are popular with young women – they have become cocktails for teenagers. Erceg left a billion dollar business when he died four years ago and the empire continues to grow on the backs of popular youth drinks such as Woodstock and Pulse, not to mention the KGB parties (KGB is a popular alcopop) which the company sponsors. Again the focus is on encouraging young New Zealanders to booze up large.

And then there is Lion Nathan and Dominion Breweries who are promoting in the same youth market. Dominion Brewery’s Tui brand shamelessly uses sex to promote alcohol and along with its various promotions such as the Miss Tui competition and Tui Brewery Girls Calendar it’s no wonder we have problems when we expect our teenagers to navigate such a vigorously-promoted, booze-sodden culture.

Personally I’ve had a gutsful of hearing about the failure of teenagers to take personal responsibility for their actions when no-one is calling for alcohol industry leaders to show the same personal responsibility.

Where are the questions for Geoff Ricketts, Chair of Lion Nathan since 2001? According to the December 2008 issue of Management magazine Ricketts philosophy “is to deliver strong returns for shareholders while conducting the business in line with deeply held values of integrity and doing the right thing for the long-term health of the business, the environment and the societies in which Lion Nathan operates”. Yeah right. It seems the dangers of alcohol abuse come a distant second to heavy promotion of alcohol to our youth so the company can deliver “strong returns to shareholders”.

And what about Brian Blake from Dominion Breweries which pushes the Tui advertising campaign targeting young New Zealanders? Where is his personal responsibility in all this?

Similarly with the director of Independent Liquor. I’m sure there will be the usual tut-tuting around the boardroom about irresponsible teenagers before the directors get down to salivating over the graphs showing increasing sales and growing profits from alcohol abuse.

Why is it that personal responsibility passes the corporates by? Why does it only apply to a 16 year old taking her friends home after a party?

These companies are all expecting teenagers to drink responsibly while they cynically push, push, push their products at young New Zealanders.

I’d like to see Geoff Ricketts and Brian Blake and the private equity directors who own Independent Liquor turn out on a Friday night to pick up the human remains of young lives lost from the irresponsible promotion of alcohol to youngsters.

It will be a good day in New Zealand when these booze barons take some personal responsibility for their actions rather than leave it to a hapless 16 year old to explain why she was drinking before the horrendous accident which killed two of her friends.