News & Views

The Newsletter of Alcohol Healthwatch

An Alcohol Policy For Auckland City

Auckland City Council moved towards adopting an alcohol policy recently when the City's Advocacy Committee approved that the Council further investigate the development of an alcohol strategy.

The Advocacy Committee recommended that a future alcohol policy should aim to demonstrate leadership with regards to the responsible promotion and consumption of alcohol.

One of the key proponents for an Auckland City alcohol policy has been Councillor Marie Leadbeater. She believes that the recommendations of the committee, based on a scoping study by consultants Hill, Young and Cooper, is a significant step forward. Marie Leadbeater has been particularly concerned about the impact of alcohol misuse on young people. "The problems associated with alcohol-related harm are community problems and need community solutions. For this reason it is important that Auckland City takes a leadership role", says Marie Leadbeater.

"The council is involved with alcohol in so many areas from event facilitation, liquor licensing, district planning and also with regards to its own functions", says Marie. "For example, I think the city needs to ensure that it adheres to host responsibility practices at its own functions".

Photo: Councillor Marie Leadbeter
Councillor Marie Leadbeter in action.

Marie Leadbeater believes Auckland City andthe Central Business District has increasingly become a centre for entertain-ment, tourism and a magnet for young people. Therefore it is important that the city remains a safe and vibrant place for people to visit. "Unfortunately local government is often required to pick up the pieces after changes at the central government level", says Marie. "What Auckland City needs to strive for is a holistic approach to alcohol problems, not simply driving young people from one area to another." Councillor Leadbeater also believes it is important that the council seeks to make district-planning regulations more responsive to the liquor licensing process. This view was echoed in the recently released National Alcohol Strategy, which seeks to encourage local bodies to better address alcohol issues by effective use of legislation, bylaws, policies and plans.

Alcohol Healthwatch Staff Update

Alcohol Healthwatch has recently farewelled two staff members Health Promotion worker, Judy McAnulty and Last Drink Survey Co-ordinator, Jo Arrowsmith. Both have worked energetically for Alcohol Healthwatch for a number of years. Judy is now Health Director for the Seven Day Adventist Church, while Jo has been appointed as a social worker at Tauranga Hospital. Wendy Rasmussen and Virginia Fairnie have been welcomed to the team as Last Drink Survey Co-ordinators. In other changes Eldene Bradley has been appointed National Last Drink Survey Development Co-ordinator.
We wish them all well in their new roles!

Death, Taxes and the National Alcohol Strategy

The recently released National Alcohol Strategy provides a blueprint for reducing alcohol-related harm in New Zealand. The strategy is not intended as a prescriptive document but rather a guideline. Nor is it meant to limit different approaches or initiatives. When the strategy was released, one aspect in particular drew considerable attention. That was the 'proposal' to raise the excise tax on alcohol!

The National Alcohol Strategy states that there is a need to "develop a comprehensive taxation policy on alcohol to discourage excessive use, and recoup some of the external costs caused by the misuse of alcohol". Currently, the alcohol industry pays about $440 million a year in excise tax (The Treasury, 1999), with approximately $6 million being tied to funding the Alcohol Advisory Council and the rest going into the Government's consolidated fund.

This compares with the annual cost of alcohol misuse in New Zealand estimated variously at between $1.5 million and $2.4 billion (Devlin et al, The Social Costs of Alcohol in New Zealand, 1996) and $3 billion (Easton B, The Social Costs of Tobacco Use and Alcohol Misuse, 1997). These figures are derived from the negative externalities of alcohol use minus any perceived benefits or positive externalities. Clearly there is a considerable gap between the cost to society of alcohol related-harm and the amount paid in excise tax.

Excise tax is imposed on alcohol for two reasons firstly to offset the costs of alcohol misuse and secondly to reduce alcohol-related harm. The National Alcohol Strategy states "a review of the evidence indicates proportionally higher alcohol prices (and taxes) are associated with fewer alcohol-related problems". Indeed the effects of price changes on alcohol consumption has been extensively investigated (Edwards et al, Alcohol Policy and the Public Good, 1994). This research has consistently shown that all other factors being equal, a rise in prices leads to a drop in consumption with a corresponding decrease in harm, while a decrease in price leads to an increase in consumption. Studies also suggest some groups such as young people, appear to be more sensitive to price changes than the population as a whole (Zhang and Casswell, The effects of real price and changes in the distribution of alcohol consumption, 1999). The New Zealand Public Health Association has also supported calls for higher taxes on alcohol. The PHA recently produced a paper on taxation stating that further increases in alcohol tax are justified on the grounds of the ongoing substantial social costs of alcohol use and the proven effectiveness of tax increases as an alcohol control strategy. Alcohol Healthwatch supports these calls and challenges the Government to place a higher excise tax on alcohol!

Minister of Justice Announces Review of Drinking Age

The Government has announced a review of the costs and social impact of lowering the drinking age to 18 years. The Ministry of Justice will undertake the review, and it is intended the results will be used to assess whether there is justification for Parliament to reconsider the drinking age issue. Justice Minister Phil Goff commented that he initiated the review some time ago as a sceptic of the change, (Evening Post, 11 July). Among the things Mr Goff wants measured are the laws impact on teenage car accidents, hospital admissions, youth offending and anti-social behaviour.

"What we need is to clarify the extent to which trends have altered as a result of lowering the drinking age. New Zealand has a major problem with youth binge drinking. Its not a new problem, but nor have we seen any evidence that the situation is improving", said the Minister.

The statement by the Minister of Justice followed a call by Dr John Adams, the Chairman of the Medical Association, for a return of the legal minimum drinking age to 20 years. "The NZMA favours a return to a legal drinking age of 20. If this does not happen then ID checks of young people trying to buy liquor must be carried out more rigorously", Dr Adams said. "New Zealand teenagers already have a binge drinking culture when it comes to alcohol, and many don't hesitate to flout the law to drink under-age. With the age limit now set at 18, it seems that even younger teens are now gaining access to alcohol."

This view is supported by a recent survey conducted by Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department, where the number of 15-18 reporting with alcohol-related injures has doubled in the 12 months after the drinking age was lowered to 18 years compared with the preceding 12 months. Alcohol Healthwatch believes that the proposed review of the legal drinking age provides an excellent opportunity to improve public health policy with regards to young people and underage drinking.


Photo: The winning street  art
The winning street art by T Ramea, N Tapeli and A Vaipulu of Aorere College.

Inter-school Song Dance and Street Art Competition

On June 23 the Manurewa Youth Access to Alcohol group (YAA) held an 'alcohol free' Inter-school Song Dance and Street Art Competition. The event was highly successful with many outstanding entries. The aim of the promotion was to hold an event that was alcohol free while at same time promoting a health and safety message. The event received invaluable assistance from the Otara Music and Arts Centre. Winners of the Song section were Phat Boize of James Cook High School. T. Ramea, N.Tapeli and A Vaipulu of Aorere College won the Art section. Quick and Easy of James Cook High won the Dance section. It is intended that YAA will hold the competition again next year. Alcohol Healthwatch is a member of YAA.

A Decade of Drinking
A survey of drinking in Auckland

The Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit recently released the report, 'A Decade of Drinking: Ten YEar Trends in Drinking Patterns in Auckland, New Zealand, 1990-1999'

The report compares the results of annual surveys carried out in the Auckland region between 1990 and 1999. The surveys assessed drinking patterns, alcohol-related problems and other alcohol related issues. Significantly the survey found the quantity consumed by young people 14-19 on a typical drinking occasion increased dramatically over the 10 year period. In 1990 an average of 3-4 drinks were consumed on a typical drinking occasion whereas in 1999 the average had become 5-6 drinks. This was largely due to increases among the 14-17 year olds whose average increased from 2-3 to 5-6 drinks!


Foodtown Grey Lynn Granted 24 Hours

Foodtown Grey Lynn in Auckland has been granted a 24 hour liquor license by the Liquor Licensing Authority. The supermarket has been open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since November 2000 and the license variation brings the liquor trading hours into line with the supermarket trading hours. Foodtown argued that people using the store at these times are people heading away for long weekends or simply going fishing! Local residents objected to the extension of the licensing hours believing it would increase the presence of young people anxious to 'top up' their dwindling supplies and would lead to noise and other disturbance to the neighbourhood. This view was not shared by the Authority. Woolworths Grey Lynn has also applied for a 24 hour license.

Local Government Act Review Progress
Alcohol Free Areas Becoming A Reality

The Department of Internal Affairs has recently released a consultation document on the Review of the Local Government Act. Submissions on the document close on 30 August 2001. It is intended that the proposed changes to the legislation will give local government greater flexibility and allow it to become involved in a wider range of activities.

The Review Document specifically includes a section on the regulations governing the drinking of alcohol in public places. Presently local councils are restricted in their powers to enforce liquor bans. While there are now certain specified days on which a local council can place a 24 hour liquor ban, including Waitangi Day, Guy Fawkes Day, Labour Day, Good Friday to Easter Monday, and Christmas Eve through to January 2, for the remaining days of the year councils can only gazette an area alcohol free for a 12 hour period and they need to specify a particular reason.

This has severely limited council's ability to take initiatives on safety and create alcohol free public spaces. Communities including Gore, Nelson, Upper Hutt, Napier and Otara have all wanted to establish alcohol free areas but have found they have been legally constrained by the Local Government Act. In the case of Gore, the District Council pasted a bylaw prohibiting drinking in the town's main centre. However, a decision by Invercargill District Court Judge Moran ruled that the Gore 'by-law' was illegal. Former Gore district mayor Ian Tulloch, who helped introduce the bylaw slammed the decision as "a victory for bureaucracy over common-sense. The bylaw had been 'spectacularly successful' and the community wanted it", Tulloch said.

Council powers to gazette areas 'alcohol free' are set out in section 709 A-H of the Local Government Act. The review puts forward three options; that the present sections be deleted and councils be given broader powers, that the sections be amended so that local council have specific powers to gazette areas alcohol free or that the status quo remains. Alcohol Healthwatch supports the call for council to be able to establish "alcohol free areas" and encourages the readers of News & Views to make a submission to the Local Government Review. (For a copy of the discussion document contact the Department of Internal Affairs, PO Box 805 Wellington or )

Cigs and Booze a Bad Combination

People who drink and smoke have to drink more booze to feel drunk than do non-smoking drinkers, placing them at greater risk of damage to their brains, livers, and hearts a new study suggests. The study shows nicotine substantially reduces blood alcohol levels in rats, which are considered a good role model for humans. Since alcohol abusers generally "drink to effect" they will end up drinking more alcohol to get the expected level of intoxication, say the researchers from Texas A&M University System Health Care.

ABC Science On Line



16-17 August 2001, ALAC "Partnerships Conference", Christchurch

28 September, International Day of the Older People, Manurewa Botanical Gardens.

31 October - 2 November, Weaving the Strands, Collaborating, Co-ordinating and Creating a Safety Culture, Wellington. (The inaugural conference of the Injury Prevention Network of New Zealand.)

14-16 November 2001, ALAC Pacific Spirits "Turning Tides" Conference, Waipuna Conference Centre, Auckland

Mid-late September, Alcohol Healthwatch Sale of Liquor Act Forum. (Date to be advised)

News & Views

Alcohol Healthwatch
PO Box 99407, Newmarket, Auckland
Ph: (09) 520 7038 Fax: (09) 520 7175
This newsletter is funded by the Ministry of Health