Empty vanilla essence bottles, a mouth wash and a soft drink bottle found by a popular walking trail at Palmerston. (ABC News: Dane Hirst)
Common household products containing ethanol found dumped in a popular Palmerston walkway have raised questions about the retail sector’s approach to the regulation of alcohol sales in the NT.
- Empty, discarded bottles of vanilla essence and mouthwash were found in Palmerston
- The products have a similar alcohol content to vodka and whisky, but are easily available
- The NT Government recently brought in tough measures to combat alcohol-related harm
The mouthwash and vanilla essence found at the Palmerston Escarpment on the weekend equated to about 16 standard drinks and looked like they were mixed with a bottle of soft drink.
“I’d suggest that maybe some young people were out for some fun and entertainment … headed on down to the local supermarket and purchased some products that are well known to contain alcohol,” Nicola Coalter from Amity House said.
The products are readily available off some of the Territory’s supermarket shelves and can contain up to 35 per cent ethanol, similar to the alcohol content of vodka and whisky.
The nearest supermarket to this weekend’s dumping ground is Woolworths Bakewell, which has vanilla essence stocked on its shelves.
Vanilla essence, which contains alcohol, on sale at a Darwin supermarket. (ABC News: Dane Hirst)
Other Darwin supermarkets have decided to sell their vanilla essence, methylated spirits and mouthwash behind the counter after noticing their stock orders for the products were increasing exponentially.
“You can pick up things if you’ve got a small corner store, and you’re thinking ‘oh I’ve ordered that too often than I would have normally’ then you monitor the demographic and see that there’s a problem there and look for alternatives,” Stuart Park Corner Store owner Faye Hartley said.
Ms Hartley only stocks alcohol-free vanilla essence, keeps the methylated spirits behind the counter and her mouthwash stock is low alcohol.
The supermarket has not sold two-litre casks of wine for more than five years.
“We’re trying to our bit to get rid of the anti-social behaviour,” she said.
Regulating sale of household products ‘an absurd idea’
The Northern Territory’s alcohol consumption rate is 173 per cent of national average but the rules governing the sale of household products containing alcohol is unregulated.
It is up to individual retailers to take responsibility for how and what they sell to the community.
And the body that represents Australian retailers is unsupportive of regulation in this sphere, saying it’s an “absurd idea”.
“Regulation on any of these goods will just put more pressure on retailers in an already over-regulated market,” said Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailer’s Association.
The Northern Territory Government has brought in tough measures to combat the jurisdiction’s problems with alcohol, including being the only place in Australia with a floor price on alcohol.
“The Government’s levers for action and reduction of harm are supply and control measures, so that’s availability and it’s price,” said Ms Coalter.
“The evidence would suggest that the Territory is being very bold with the minimum floor price … and with the absence of a volumetric tax … this potentially is a policy measure that will achieve those outcomes of reducing harm, what we need is for it to be in place for a period of time and have robust evaluation alongside of it.”
Ms Coalter believes it is important for the community to understand the broadness of the Territory’s alcohol issues, and to take a harm minimisation approach.
“It’s important to remember that these are not problem drunks, we are not working in a space of problem people,” she said.
“We are working with people who have problems and they are seeking to change the way they think, feel and behave — and alcohol is readily available.”
The Woolworths Group did not respond directly to questions about its policy on the sale of household goods containing alcohol.
But said in a statement, it said: “While we’re unaware of these reports and haven’t seen an increase in the sale of these products at our store, we treat product misuse in the community seriously. As always, we’ll work closely with police and community organisations to address any concerns around misuse”.
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?