Buying mouthwash could soon require photo ID in the Northern Territory.
- The sale of household products containing alcohol has spiked in the past three months
- Advocates say that may be because more people are on the Banned Drinker Register so are resorting to other means to get alcohol
- Two groups are now calling for more restrictions on the sale of these household products
As the sale of alcohol becomes more restricted across the region, welfare groups said people are turning to easier-to-reach sources — like vanilla essence and cleaning products.
In the last three months they say these sales have spiked, with one person reportedly buying 21 litres of methylated spirits in a fortnight.
Now the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) are calling for law reform.
This week the NT Government is expected to introduce the Liquor Bill 2019, which includes powers for police to search, seize and dispose of inedible substances containing alcohol, such as some mouthwashes.
But the groups want to see it take a more proactive approach — with the products kept at the checkout behind locked cabinets, not displayed on shelves, and sold only to adults with photo ID.
It comes amid a raft of recent measures designed to combat the disturbing trend.
‘A really big spike’
The Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) — an organisation formed in 2002 to stop petrol sniffing — said it noticed a spike in the sale of methylated spirits after reports from local retailers and the Alice Springs Town Council.
The organisation’s Blair MacFarland said the council reported a higher number of empty methylated spirit bottles being found on council parks and ovals.
“If they find piles of inhalants they contact us, so we can go look for where it’s coming from and try and restrict supply,” Mr MacFarland said.
“It’s only in the last three months that there’s been a really big spike in the council picking up metho in parks and places like that and telling us about it.
“By following those up, we’ve been able to ascertain that one particular person bought 21 litres of metho over a two-week period.”
He said this person was then reported to police for possibly buying the methylated spirits for secondary supply.
Alice Springs police were contacted for comment on the matter.
Mr MacFarland said most retailers were cooperative when it came to reporting sales spikes of products containing alcohol, and that their help was going a long way in combatting the issue.
“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to keep a lid on it, in the same way we’re keeping a lid on other inhalants,” he said.
Meanwhile in the Top End, reports of an increase in the consumption of mouthwash and cooking essences have led to the formation of a new working group, made up of NGOs and the NT Health Department.
The group met for the first time in Darwin earlier this year, after community groups began noticing the trend at the end of 2018.
A similar group was already in existence in Central Australia.
The NT Health Department said while it had not seen an increase in presentations to Alice Springs Hospital for “inedible substances”, the reported spike in the Top End could be put down to an increasing number of people on the Banned Drinker Register (BDR).
The BDR bars people with a history of misusing alcohol from buying it for a certain period of time.
Statistics show alcohol-related assaults and alcohol-related emergency department presentations at the hospital have trended downwards during the past six months, following the reinstatement of the BDR.
However, it has faced criticism.
NT Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said earlier this year that restricting access to alcohol through the BDR in Adelaide River had created a situation where people were spending more of their income on alcohol and less on food and essentials.
He also said it may have been a factor in commercial break-ins and youth crime, which has been on the rise.
The NT Health Department also said the sales spike could be fuelled by a reduction in secondary alcohol supply and the fact that residential rehabilitation was not accessible to all because of costs that went along with accessing those services.
It said since the working group had been up and running, anecdotal evidence showed consumption was decreasing again.
Proposed law changes
In its submission to the Liquor Bill 2019 — which is expected to be introduced this week — the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education recommended the introduction of a legislative framework for selling these items.
It wants to see products containing alcohol kept at the checkout behind locked cabinets, not displayed on shelves, and sold only to adults with photo ID.
Sale would also be restricted to one container per person per day and not sold in containers larger than 500 millilitres.
The submission also suggested that retailers keep a register of sales, report any suspicious attempts to purchase and have the power to refuse purchases at their discretion.
Much of this is already done in places like Alice Springs as a voluntary measure, according to Dr John Boffa from PAAC.
He said it is a natural response when alcohol restrictions are put in place that people look for alternatives and agreed that is what might have driven the mouthwash rise in the Top End.
“The introduction for the minimal unit price in Darwin, coupled with the Banned Drinker Register, both of these measures are very effective and very targeted at the heaviest drinkers,” said Dr Boffa.
“Some of the heaviest drinkers will try and shift to products like mouthwash, that are freely available, that really sell at less than 20 cents a standard drink.
“We’ve seen that in Alice. We took action. It was very effective.”
Mr Boffa said while the inclusion of the products in the liquor act would be ideal, alcohol itself remained a much bigger problem across the NT.