The alcohol industry and the country’s politicians must take their share of the responsibility for the increased amounts of alcohol consumed by young people and women, and the associated increases in alcohol-related harm experienced by the community!

It is now clear that the liberialisation of the liquor laws, including the reduction of the legal drinking age, and the continued promotion of alcohol in the media has lead to increased binge drinking of alcohol and increased alcohol–related problems amongst young people and women.

While anecdotal evidence has highlighted these concerns previously, they are now underpinned by the groundbreaking research by the Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit, Drinking in New Zealand, National Surveys Comparison 1995 and 2000.

The study found that boys 16-17 years consumed on average 20 litres of absolute alcohol a year in 2000, up from 8 litres in 1995, to about 25 drinks a week. That 18 to 19 year old males had overtaken those in the 20 to 24 year age group as the heaviest drinkers and that women were drinking 21 % more alcohol in 2000 than in 1995.

Is this surprising? After all, the alcohol industry has consistently targeted young people and women in their advertising and promotional campaigns in an effort to increase sales. The alcohol industry has also been relentless in its lobbying of politicians to ensure that New Zealand has some of the must liberal liquor laws in the world

As for the politicians they have failed to acknowledge that the lowering of the drinking age to 18 years of age, and the further liberalisation of the liquor laws would result in increased levels of consumption by young people and increased amounts of alcohol related-harm. (It is estimated alcohol-related harm costs New Zealand $3 billion a year.)

The lack of political will is further characteristed by the failure to provide the increased police resources necessary to enforce the Sale of Liquor Act properly and the inability to stop the lowering of the de-facto drinking age to 15-16 years. Other concerns have been the ongoing spread of 24 hour liquor licenses in supermarkets and the saturation of alcohol advertising in the broadcast media. This lack of political will has left the government looking bereft of ideas.

The government needs to acknowledge that alcohol is a drug and that alcohol misuse has a serious impact on the health and well being of individuals and communities. It also needs to act positively and ensure that youth binge drinking does not continue to rise!

An important first step would be to ensure that interests of the alcohol industry are no longer held paramount in developing alcohol policy in New Zealand!

For further information please contact:
Roger Eccles, Alcohol Healthwatch
Wk (09) 5207038