New Zealander of the Year 2010 Finalist: Professor Doug Sellman

By Phil Taylor

Every day this week in news, business and sport we feature the finalists for the Herald New Zealander of the Year. Top honours will appear in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Professor Doug Sellman - One man's war against the booze barons. Photo / APN
Professor Doug Sellman - One man's war against the booze barons. Photo / APN

Doug Sellman shines a bright light on the damage done by alcohol abuse.

Better yet, he understands the vested interests and the associated lobbying which work against significant policy change. He makes a compelling case that the Government is captured and the public hoodwinked by these interests.

Dr Sellman, too, has a vested interest. As a professor of psychiatry specialising in addiction, he wants to reduce the damage he sees flowing from alcohol abuse.

He did his PhD on the topic "alcoholic relapse" and knows better than most the pernicious nature of addiction and and how markets are created and expanded.

When Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable said "the whole emphasis" in the debate about New Zealand's alcohol problem "should be on the responsibility of drinkers, not suppliers", Dr Sellman responded that this was an age-old tactic of the alcohol industry to divert attention from damage its product causes.

It also aims to hide hefty spending on lobbyists and a daily industry spend of about $200,000 on marketing, which has the effect of normalising a heavy drinking culture.

Sellman asks rhetorically: "Is it not hypocritical for the alcohol industry to blame heavy drinkers for irresponsibility and then quietly reap the enormous profit that is strategically derived from those same individuals?"

He says individual responsibility does not work with addicts and shifts focus from what evidence shows does work: raising alcohol prices, raising purchase age, reducing accessibility, reducing marketing and advertising, increasing drink-drive countermeasures and boosting treatment for an estimated 700,000 heavy drinkers.

Of an Otago University study finding that alcohol had become more affordable in the past decade while associated damage rose, Dr Sellman said: "No one can say you're talking it up. Lower prices equal harm."

Harm not just to the heavy drinker but to others, too. Dr Sellman was hit head-on driving on the Auckland motorway and suffered concussion, broken ribs and a damaged knee.

He has no doubt lower drink-drive limits (ours is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milligrams of blood compared to 50 in Australia and much of Europe) will "save lives, save injuries, save money and have a significant impact on the heavy drinking culture as well".

- NZ Herald

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