Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable has been repeating the tired old mantra that the answer to New Zealand's alcohol problem is for individual drinkers to be more responsible.
Referring to Sir Geoffrey Palmer's report "Alcohol in our lives", he wrote: "The report misses the point that the whole emphasis in the debate should be on the responsibility of drinkers, not suppliers. We should insist that people take responsibility for their own actions [and] interventions should be targeted directly at abuse."
This rhetoric is beginning to wear very thin. In pointing the finger at the individual drinkers and saying they are causing the problem, the alcohol industry hides the fact that their industry spends about $200,000 a day on marketing and advertising targeted at those drinkers.
We have known for many years about the obfuscations of the alcohol industry and its allies. In a landmark editorial in 1992 titled "Warning: The alcohol industry is not your friend", Professor Lawrence Wallace outlined key tactics they use to insulate themselves from taking responsibility themselves for the immense damage their product is causing.
One of these tactics is constantly to try and focus public attention on the need for people to exercise individual responsibility, while emphasising the industry is simply serving the public's chosen lifestyles. The purpose: to keep people thinking that the way to solve our society's alcohol problem is through getting individuals to "drink responsibly".
This sounds intuitively right, but in practice doesn't work. Putting the blame on people who are having trouble restricting their drinking shifts the focus away from policies that will really address the problem.
Effective policies, based on the best international evidence available, are summed up in the "5+ Solution": Raise alcohol prices, raise the purchase age, reduce accessibility, reduce marketing and advertising, increase drink-driving countermeasures, plus, increase treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers.
Professor Janet Hoek of the Department of Marketing at the University of Otago has recently said that "if we want to promote the 'individual responsibility' that is so frequently mentioned, we must examine the environments in which people make choices".
The alcohol industry's enormous spend on marketing and advertising has a profound effect on the environment in which people buy and consume alcohol.
It has the effect of normalising and maintaining the destructive heavy drinking culture we endure as a society. Furthermore, by appealing to primitive animal instincts in human nature, it erodes individuals' capacity to exercise higher order individual responsibility.
There are at least 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand, the size of the populations of Wellington and Christchurch combined. It is the collective drinking behaviour of these citizens that defines our heavy drinking culture.
Alcohol industry marketing is aimed at these people, keeping them in the habit of frequent heavy drinking while seeking new sub-populations to prey on.
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?
New Zealand's per capita consumption of alcohol over the past 10 years has increased by 9 per cent despite an ageing population. During this time the age of onset of teenage drinking has lowered and the amount drunk by teenage drinkers has increased.
Further, the amount drunk by women across the board has increased. These changing statistics aren't an accident. They are the result of business marketing plans focused on young people and women.
Mr Kerr is saying these young people and women need to be more responsible in the face of aggressive targeted marketing. But the industry he is defending is cynically trying to convert these people into heavy drinkers. Is that socially responsible?
Alcohol advertising on TV has recently reached a point that one wonders whether it can sink any lower. The latest Woodstock advert aiming to get boys to drink bourbon sweetened by Coca-Cola in a product called Woodstock, associates a can of Woodstock, a "woody", with a penile erection and not unsubtly is encouraging them to have sex with their best mates' mothers.
The ad also seems to be encouraging middle-aged women to get their teenage clothes back on and flirt with their son's best mates. I presume some would defend these adverts as responsible business practice and contributing to a healthy society.
Change is coming. France has already brought alcohol into line with tobacco in terms of marketing and advertising, banning broadcast alcohol advertising as well as sponsorship of all sporting and cultural events.
The University of Otago is leading the way in New Zealand - banning all alcohol promotion from its premises and functions. It's time for the rest of the country to take the problem seriously.
* Dr Doug Sellman is professor of psychiatry and addiction medicine and director of the National Addiction Centre, University of Otago in Christchurch.By Doug Sellman