In the absence of any better ideas, the truth is always a good place to start.”
This line comes up regularly in the process of creating marketing content at my workplace, and not out of any particularly heightened sense of moral righteousness. The truth is a good place to start because it’s always there, it’s free, it requires no creativity, and usually it can be given a lick of paint or otherwise knocked into some sort of shape.
I’ve actually become quite partial to the truth as a marketing tool. If the story really is true, it’s easier to remember, and hopefully it aligns with the brand values. But it’s not just in marketing that the truth could also be a useful commodity. There’s potential for the truth to be rolled out and used in a whole range of issues in the wine industry.
The truth about wine taxation is that wine is taxed more than soft drinks because of the social and health impacts of alcohol. Thereforeif alcohol drives the non-GST component of wine taxation, then a tax based on the volume of alcohol in wine is logical. Fortunately the government currently recognises the importance of wine to employment and in particular to regional economies, and reduces the current value-based tax burden with a WET rebate.
The imperfect system helps small wineries, in particular, to stay afloat, so changing it is a can of worms.
But if we accept that it’s the alcohol component of wine that should be taxed, then the value-based formula for WET amounts to a luxury tax, which unfairly targets premium producers. The status quo may well be the lesser of most evils for most wineries. But while the method of calculating the tax is at odds with the reason for the existence of the tax, pressure for reform is likely to keep bubbling away.
Cracking the USA
Wine Australia is commissioning research in the USA “to better understand how our wine is perceived … and how to change the negative perception that currently exists”. The truth is, our wine is perceived based on the truth of the wine we’ve been sending over there for the past 15 years: sweet reds with critter labels and over-ripe jammy numbers in heavy bottles. If we want to be perceived as producers of high quality, diverse, regional wines with balance and interest, best we send some more of that truth over there. Of course, the fine wines are finite, and if their makers can make more from selling them locally, why would they send them stateside?
The anti-alcohol lobby
This is threatening to grow from a lobby to a whole hotel. One of the foci at the moment is the link between alcohol and cancer. The percentage of cancers caused by alcohol is not large, but nor is it insignificant and in the case of breast cancer, because the incidence is so high, even a small percentage of breast cancers being attributed to alcohol consumption means a large number of cases.
According to the American Cancer Society: “Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have two to five drinks daily have about one-and-a-half times the risk of women who don’t drink alcohol.”
That “very small” increase in risk is important, though, because although high levels of consumption cause most alcohol-related health problems, the anti-alcohol lobby can legitimately argue any level of consumption is a health risk.
For academics with a vested interest in promoting the dangers of alcohol, a message that “every drink is doing you damage” is the Holy Grail. This is regardless of the potential for harm to be caused by veering from the truth about the more damaging aspects of alcohol, or the most important behaviours required to achieve the best health outcomes. It’s the Holy Grail because, in the minds of politicians and some members of the public, it links alcohol with tobacco, and thereby justifies a campaign that requires endless funding, and is morally beyond reproach.
The first truth that can get lost is the difference in risk between moderate and high levels of consumption. The second truth that can be lost is how this knowledge fits in with the bigger picture about alcohol. If the motivation is to reduce the negative health impacts of alcohol, resources need to be allocated according to the risks, with drink driving and binge drinking at the top of the list. If the motivation is to increase taxes on alcohol, which some see as a silver bullet for reducing consumption and negative health outcomes, the PR needs to attack moderate drinking, to justify the increase in tax on all drinkers.
If we, as wine producers and sellers, embrace the truth about the dangers of alcohol, and understand and acknowledge the science, we’ll be able to better defend the wine industry from lobbyists who, despite many of them being publicly funded researchers, can be surprisingly unscientific when it suits their agenda.
Take this quote, for example, from Otago Medical School’s Professor, Jennie Connor, objecting to some research from the USA on the “beneficial effects of ‘moderate’ drinking on cardiovascular disease and overall mortality”.
Connor’s casually racist rebuttal:
“We don’t need advice from Uncle Sam on what to believe.”
Now there’s a great contribution to an important public health debate!