Alcohol Healthwatch is a charitable trust that works to reduce alcohol-related harm. We have been funded by the Ministry of Health since 1992 to provide expertise on alcohol-related issues at community, regional and national levels. Alcohol Healthwatch takes a public health approach in providing services which include advocacy for healthy public policy and practice, as well as information, support and co-ordination for inter-agency and community groups.
1. Proposed Amendments to Sections 162 and 163
Alcohol Healthwatch strongly supports clauses 25 and 26 of the Bill which amend the principal Act by providing an exception to offences for minors who purchase liquor or are present in a restricted or supervised area at the request of a member of the police acting in the course of his or her duties. This would enable Police to use controlled purchase operations effectively to reduce Sale of Liquor Act offences.
In New Zealand, as in many developed countries, hazardous drinking by teens is a serious public health issue (Habgood et al. 2001). One quarter of 14 to 17 year olds are currently drinking heavily (Kalafatelis, 2003).
The combined effect of the vastly increased number of outlets1 and extended trading hours resulting from the 1989 and 1999 Amendments to the Sale of Liquor Act (SOL Act), together with the lowered purchase age, has been to significantly increase access to alcohol for young people. Monitoring and enforcing the SOL Act in the over 14,000 licences currently in New Zealand, and particularly their impact on young people, is a significant issue and drain on enforcement resources.
Amendments to the SOL Act in 1999 were designed to simplify the Act and improve its enforcability, creating ‘a hard 18’. However, there has not been an accompanying commitment to improving enforcement resources, and this has not become a reality. At present, under-aged youth can access alcohol with relative ease. This is of great concern, as alcohol use in teenage years has been shown to predict subsequent levels of heavier drinking and problems (Casswell and Zhang, 1997). Early onset of drinking is associated with increased risks to the individual as well as high economic and social costs.
Underage purchase is a significant source of alcohol for young people. ALAC’s Youth Drinking Monitor (Kalafatelis et al. 2003) found that, when asked directly, 13 percent of 14-17 year drinkers said they had personally purchased alcohol. When considering 16-17 year olds only, this figure increases. Unpublished data from the Drinking in New Zealand Survey (Habgood et al. 2001) found a total of 37 percent of 16-17 year old drinkers had purchased takeaway alcohol in the previous 12 months. It is likely that underage purchasers of alcohol also on-supply to even younger teens.
Results of controlled purchase operations, surveys and age verification studies have confirmed that the rate of checking IDs is inadequate.
- ALAC’s Youth Drinking Monitor (Kalafatelis, 2003) found that, of the 14-17 year olds who purchased alcohol for themselves, 41 percent claimed they were hardly ever or never asked for ID.
- In a recent national study of alcohol use among Maori, 40 percent of 13-17 year old males and 45 percent of 13-17 year old females agreed that it was easy for them to buy takeaway alcohol when they wanted (Moewaka-Barnes et al. 2003).
- A pseudo patrons study conducted in off-licensed premises the Auckland region last year found that, overall, 46 percent of attempts to purchase alcohol by 18 year olds without ID were successful (Huckle et al. 2003). Using 18 year olds involves no breaches of the SOL Act but provides an indication of whether premises are routinely asking for ID before serving young looking people. Although there was a significant improvement from a similar study in 2002, where the proportion was 61 percent, the fact that nearly one in two attempts by young people to purchase alcohol from off-licences without ID is likely to be successful is cause for concern.
Rigorous enforcement of liquor laws is essential in reducing underage drinking and intoxication. Expectation of prosecution or loss of licence is an important component in ensuring compliance with the SOL Act, and well-publicised cases have an important deterrent effect.
Studies of the results of increased enforcement show it to be a very effective means to reduce sales to minors. Even moderate increases in enforcement have been found to reduce sales to minors by as much as 35-40 percent, especially when combined with community based activities (Grube, 1997; Wagenaar et al. 2000).
Controlled purchase operations are a very effective means of enforcing age verification practices. They are also an important means of monitoring compliance with Section 155 (Sale or Supply of Liquor to Minors), as well as being a means of educating licensees about their responsibility to ensure they have effective staff training and other measures in place to avoid sales to underage persons.
It is essential therefore that liquor licensing police are sufficiently resourced to carry out controlled purchase operations and prepare cases, and not hampered by fear of ramifications for the under 18 year olds used in these operations.
Alcohol Healthwatch, however, is of the view that a requirement in law to request an evidence of age document is the best way to ensure that those younger than the minimum purchase age are less easily able to purchase alcohol. We recommend therefore, that the SOL Act be amended to require all licensees to ensure that any person appearing to be under the age of 25 years produces an evidence of age document when attempting to enter age restricted premises or purchase alcohol. This could be included in the Act as a mandatory condition of all licences, and failure to ask for evidence of age could be an infringement offence. This would be an effective deterrent both to minors attempting to purchase as well as to licensees and their staff.
An alternative suggestion, avoiding the legal difficulties associated with ‘appearing to be 25’ would be to have a mandatory condition that licensees ensure their staff ‘verify that any person attempting to enter age-restricted premises or attempting to purchase alcohol is of the legal age to do so.’ This would be stronger and more specific than the current requirement for licensing authorities to have regard to ‘the steps proposed to be taken by the applicant to ensure that the requirements of this Act in relation to the sale of liquor to prohibited persons are observed’ when considering applications for a licence.
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2. Proposed Amendments Allowing Licensing Trusts to Reconstitute as Community Trusts
In consideration of this amendment to the Sale of Liquor Act, Alcohol Healthwatch would like to draw attention to the object of the SOL Act, which is to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse, so far as that can be achieved by legislative means. It is unclear from the Bill how the proposed reconstitution of the licensing trusts as community trusts will contribute to this.
Community based licensing trusts should be able to demonstrate the implementation of exemplary host responsibility practices to reduce intoxication sales to minors, and the provision of a drinking environment in keeping with community ideals.
According to West Auckland Trust Services Limited: “Trusts were created to sell alcohol with care and responsibility with the well- being of the community in mind.” However, criteria for judging the effectiveness and success of licensing trusts do not appear to have been developed and at present there is little research available to indicate whether existing trusts do effect policies and practices that reduce alcohol-related problems. For example in the previously mentioned pseudo patron study in off-licences in the Auckland Region, premises in Waitakere City, wholly trust governed, made 37 percent of sales to 18 year old pseudo-patrons without requesting ID. Although this compared favourably with some districts (over the region 46 percent of sales were made without ID), these results appear to indicate that trust–owed premises are little better at implementing processes aimed at reducing sales to minors than other premises.
However, Alcohol Healthwatch does support the philosophy of maximising community control over the sale and supply of alcohol, where this reflects the wishes and concerns of the community. A role for local communities in regulatory decisions and in ongoing monitoring can stretch regulatory resources (Hill et al. 1998, Ayres et al. 1992) and can contribute to the reduction of alcohol-related problems.
Alcohol Healthwatch knows of no evidence to indicate that trusts should not be allowed to diversify beyond the hospitality industry and their district. However, the purpose of such trusts should not be primarily to reap profits for the community from activities such as the sale of alcohol as these cannot compensate for the cost to communities of alcohol-related harm. It may also engender an unhealthy dependence of community organisations on proceeds from the sale of alcohol. Alcohol Healthwatch is of the view that profits gained by community trusts from alcohol sales should be prioritised for evidence-based activities to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm. These funds should be distributed to communities which have been identified as having greatest need.
Alcohol Healthwatch is supportive of the provision in the Bill for greater community influence over the priorities of their trusts and for greater transparency and accountability.
1In the early 1990s the number of liquor licences rapidly doubled, steadying at 11,000-12,000 in the mid to late 1990s, then rising to 14,211 by 2002. (On-licences 7,160, off-licences 4,280, club licences 2,771) Liquor Licensing Authority, 14.11.02.
Ayes I, Braithwaite, J. 1992. Responsive Regulation: Transcending the deregulation debate. Oxford University Press.
Casswell S, Zhang, J 1997. Access to alcohol from licensed premises during adolescence: a longitudinal study. Addiction 92 (6), 737-745.
Grube J, 1997. Preventing sales of alcohol to minors: Results from a community trial. Addiction 92 (Suppl. 2), S251-60.
Habgood R, Casswell S, Pledger M, Bhatta K. 2001. Drinking in New Zealand: National Surveys
Comparison 1995 & 2000.: University of Auckland, Alcohol and Public Health
Hill L, Stewart, L. 1998. Responsive regulation and liquor licensing in New Zealand Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit.
Huckle T, Pledger, M, Casswell, S, 2003. The Auckland Pseudo Patrons Project 2003 Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Massey University.
Kalafatelis E, McMillen P, Palmer S, 2003. Youth and Alcohol: 2003 ALAC Youth Drinking Monitor. Wellington: BRC Marketing & Social Research.
Moewaka Barnes H, McPherson M, Bhatta K, 2003. Te Ao Waipiro 2000 The Whariki Research Group & The Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit, University of Auckland and Te Ropu Whariki & SHORE Research, Massey University, July 2003.
Wagenaar A, Murray D, and Toomey T, 2000. Communities mobilising for change on alcohol (CMAC): effects of a randomised trial on arrest and traffic crashes. Addiction 95, 209-17. in Babor T. et al. (eds) 2003. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Research and Public Policy. World Health Organisation, Oxford University Press.
West Auckland Trust Services Ltd web site: http://www.wats.co.nz/ Accessed Jan 27 2004.
27 Gillies Ave
PO Box 99 407
Ph. (09) 520 7038
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