Autumn 2002 Issue 33

News & Views

The Newsletter of Alcohol Healthwatch
Auckland Off-Licence Initiative
Photo: Senior Sergeant Scott Taylor, Jolene Thomas of Alcohol Healthwatch, Raewyn Fairley of Auckland City Council and Ron Tustin of the Alcohol Advisory Council
Senior Sergeant Scott Taylor, Jolene Thomas of Alcohol Healthwatch, Raewyn Fairley of Auckland City Council and Ron Tustin of the Alcohol Advisory Council discuss the under age drinking initiative.

Off-licences selling to minors and the related problem of young people who are legally entitled to purchase alcohol supplying underage friends, have been identified as two key issues impacting on youth drinking. In an effort to tackle these problems two recent initiatives in Auckland have aimed at providing information to both off-licences and their customers. Under the Sale of Liquor Act it is illegal for anyone other than a parent or a legal guardian to supply alcohol to a minor.

Prior to Christmas the Auckland Liquor Liaison Group launched a programme designed to inform off-licenced premises in Auckland City's Western Bays Ward about the legal and health consequences of supplying alcohol to minors. The project was kicked off with a breakfast seminar for off-licence premise owners and their staff. Each premise in the Western Bays Ward was provided with information and a resource kit, which included stickers, posters, printed plastic bags and counter mats as well as written information. The stickers stated "THINK BEFORE YOU BUY UNDER 18'S DRINK".

Those attending the breakfast were also warned by the Police that they intended to carrying out a number of 'pseudo patron operations' in the area. This followed successful use of a 'pseudo patron sting' in Onehunga. The breakfast seminar was addressed by the Police, the Auckland City Road Safety Coordinator and ALAC. The Auckland Liquor Liaison Group consists of the District Licensing Agency, the Medical Officer of Health, the Police, the Auckland City Road Safety Co-ordinator, ALAC and the Alcohol Healthwatch Last Drink Survey Co-ordinator.

According to Jolene Thomas of Alcohol Healthwatch who organised the initiative, "The aim of the project was to raise awareness around issues and help develop an ID culture. The lowering of the drinking age was supposed to have introduced a hard 18, however, research and anecdotal evidence suggests this hasn't happened," says Thomas. "This is an attempt to redress the balance and I am excited by the potential of the project". The focus of the project was on the Western Bays ward, one of seven wards in Auckland City. "We decided to start at the Western Bays ward because it has an average number of off-licences. We hoped to develop a model of best practice to apply to the other wards" says Thomas. The project is currently being evaluated.

And The North Shore

A similar initiative has also taken place in North Shore City. The North Shore has been notorious for problems associated with youth drinking and out of control parties, especially at the city's beaches. The North Shore Liquor Liaison Group recognised that there was a problem of minors gaining access to alcohol through on-supply. In response to this they began a project in December 2001 to supply information both on the Sale of Liquor Act and the health consequences of alcohol misuse. The message was 'don't supply alcohol to minors', and this was reinforced with an range of promotional aids, including counter mats, badges, stickers and information brochures. Material was delivered to 60 or so off-licences on the North Shore.

The project was co-ordinated by Alcohol Healthwatch's Virginia Fairnie, the North Shore Last Drink Survey Co-ordinator. "There was a very positive response to the materials", says Fairnie "and it was acknowledged that there was a need for such a campaign." Each of the off-licences received brochures to supply to customers outlining the legal aspects of the Sale of Liquor Act and host responsibility practices. The brochure also contained helpful hints to assist adults in communicating with their children.

"Off-licences reported that they were tired of serving those over 18 with alcohol, and then seeing them give the alcohol to younger friends clearly under the legal drinking age, but there was nothing they could do about it," says Fairnie. The project aimed to ensure that off-licences and the wider community were better informed to act more responsibly. The difficulties of on-supply were recently highlighted by an Alcohol Advisory Council survey. Published in August last year, the survey indicated that 43% of young people between the ages of 14-17 years acquired alcohol from their friends and this figure increased significantly for those attending social functions.

Justice Delayed?

The Ministry of Justice has released its report the "Possible Effects of the Sale of Liquor Amendment Act 1999 (Lowering the Drinking Age)"

With considerable "fanfare" the Ministry of Justice last year announced that it was to undertake a review of the impacts of lowering the legal drinking age. On Friday 22 February, 2002 the Ministry released its report, unfortunately it proved to be somewhat of a 'damp squib' with little new information or recommendations addressing concerns about youth drinking.

This was in a large part due to the fact that no monitoring process had been put in place to collect appropriate data after the legal drinking age was lowered. As the authors of the document themselves pointed out, the report could only give a "partial picture" of the impacts of lowering the drinking age. The report was based mostly on the limited statistics routinely collected. In most cases the statistics were not intended to explicitly measure the impact of lowering the drinking age.

However, the report did acknowledge that there had been a significant increase in the amount of alcohol consumed by all aged cohorts between 14 to 20 years. While the proportion of 14-15 year olds who consumed alcohol had not increased significantly, those that did drink were drinking more frequently and consuming more. Between 1995 and 2000 the amount consumed on a typical drinking occasion by this age group rose from 3 to 5 drinks. This pattern was replicated for 16-17 year olds, whose average alcohol consumption went from 4 drinks on a typical drinking occasion to 7. In the case of 18-19 year olds, average alcohol consumption increased from 5 to 7 drinks over the five year period.

The information gathered did suggest there are clear health and safety consequences emerging as a result of lowering the drinking age. The number of apprehensions and/or infringement notices for minors drinking in a public place had more than doubled from 1999 to 2000. (However, the 1999 figure did not include infringement notices as they were introduced under the 1999 amendment.) There was also a significant increase in the number of minors apprehended for disorderly behaviour, 2454 in 2000 compared with 2242 in 1999. (There is a high probability that those apprehended for disorderly behaviour had been drinking.) There were similar increases in hospital admissions for young people. An Auckland Hospital Emergency Department study (Everitt and Jones, 2001), looked at alcohol-related hospital admissions for 12 months prior to the lowering of the drinking age compared to the 12 months after and found a 52% increase in hospital presentations by the 18-19 year old age group. This resulted in a 4.4% increase in total admissions for this age cohort. In the case of alcohol-related road crashes involving young people, there was no significant increase, however, there was a levelling off in the previously declining figures.

It appears that at present the Government is reluctant to improve the Sale of Liquor Act legislation or increase police resources to enforce the legislation properly. While a good case can be made for returning the legal drinking age back to 20 years of age, in the Government's view the case is not yet compelling. Health workers need to ensure that there is better collection of data, and to point out that the upsurge in youth drinking will have dire consequences for the future health of the country.

"Acting Up on Local Government"

The final days of 2001 saw the Government pass under urgency the 'Local Government (Prohibition of Liquor in Public Place) Amendment Act'. The amendment had started life as a Private Members Bill introduced by Winston Peters. The Bill, however, successfully managed to avoid the normal ballot box process after it was taken up by the government. The Amendment was then past with considerable haste to be in place for the New Year. Arguably the legislation resulted in every public space being "alcohol free" and introduced prohibition to public areas throughout New Zealand.

The "conventional wisdom" is, however, that the Peter's amendment will have limited impact as in the haste to introduce the legislation the drafters failed to specify the Police powers of confiscation or arrest under the changes. This made the amendment rather toothless and may result in it just padding out the statute book. Ultimately, it will be superseded by the new Local Government Act to be introduced in July 2003.

Nevertheless, the drama surrounding the passing of the legislation did place renewed focus on liquor bans, with bans in the New Years Eve 'hotspots' such as Mount Maunganui being enforced with increased Police numbers. While there have been liquor bans in Mount Maunganui for a number of years, the previous New Years celebration at the "Mount" had got out of hand with rioting and ongoing street battles between the Police and the New Years revellers. Consequently, the Police decided to adopt a hard-line, no nonsense approach to enforcing the ban on the beach and the adjacent Marine Parade. This approach was supported by the Council with a liquor ban being put in place between Christmas Eve and New Year. "We have had a minority controlling the environment down there allowing it to be pretty chaotic, it's not a tavern, it's actually a beach," commented Tauranga Mayor Jan Beange.

While most praised the operation of the ban and its success in stopping the rioting and anti-social behaviour of previous New Years, others in the community criticised the Police for being at times over zealous in their enforcement, with cars in Marine Parade being stopped and searched and alcohol confiscated. Such criticism highlights the need for Police and territorial authorities to work together when imposing a liquor ban to ensure they have public support and that they have engaged in a process of public consultation.

Proposed changes in the new Local Government Act will enable councils to use by-laws in prohibiting or otherwise regulating the consumption of liquor in public places. According to Simpson Grierson lawyer, David Kirkpatrick, who acts for Auckland City Council, there needs to be a balance between peoples right to assemble peacefully and to express themselves under the Bill of Rights and initiatives such as alcohol free areas aimed at reducing violence and improving community safety.

Alcohol Intelligence!

The New Zealand Police have long acknowledged that there is close relationship between crime, violence and alcohol misuse, yet the collection of alcohol-related crime data and using it in a strategically meaningful way has often been problematic. In an effort to address this problem the Police have contracted Alcohol Healthwatch to undertake a national scoping study looking at Police alcohol-related information systems and the manner in which this data is used. The scoping study is being conducted by Eldene Bradley who will also look at how this information is used by other organisations such as District Licensing Agencies.

It is intended that the study will be the first stage of a larger project that aims for the development of a National Last Drink Survey programme to collect alcohol-related data. The Last Drink Survey is used by the Police to record where those apprehended and "suspected" of consuming alcohol had their last drink. This information is used to identify poorly performing licensed premises and assist general intelligence, particularly traffic. The programme has been operating in various parts of New Zealand for over a decade and has been recognised both nationally and internationally as a key public health tool in reducing alcohol-related harm. In many cases Last Drink Survey programmes have evolved to meet the local community needs, while in a number of regions no Last Drink Survey programme exists at all. It is hoped that a model of best practice can be developed that is flexible enough to meet local needs and at the same time is consistent throughout the country.

In undertaking the initial survey, Ms Bradley will interview Police from the 12 Police Districts, Liquor Licencing Inspectors, public health workers and other interest groups to establish a broad understanding of alcohol-related information currently available. It is hoped that the research undertaken will provide a sound base from which to develop a National Last Drink Survey programme.

Gambling Reform Bill

The Government has introduced the Responsible Gambling Bill to parliament for consideration by Select Committee. One of the aims of the Bill is to address the explosive growth of gaming machines in New Zealand and the associated dire public health fallout. The Bill includes significant controls on both numbers and sites of future gaming machines, however, it does little to curb those already in the community and ongoing "improvements" of gaming technology.

Under the Responsible Gaming Bill, territorial authorities will be required to adopt a gambling venue policy before 1 January, 2003. The Bill also restricts the maximum number of gambling machines on a new site to 9 machines compared with the previous 18. The territorial authority policy must specify where class 4 venues (venues with gaming machines) may be located in the district and specify any restrictions on the number of gaming machines that may operate at a venue.

In deciding the location of venues the territorial authority can give consideration to: the characteristics of the district and the location of kindergartens, early childhood centres, schools, places of worship, and other community facilities. As well, the council needs to consider the cumulative effect of additional gaming machines in the community and whether it is desirable to increase the opportunities for gambling.

Alcohol Healthwatch has long held the view that communities should have similar input in the siting of liquor licenses. Class 4 gaming sites will be required to have both an operational and venue licence. It will be illegal for those under 18 years to use gaming machines. Submissions to the Responsible Gambling Bill close on 2 April 2002 and can be addressed to:

Clerk of the Government Administration Committee
Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives
Parliament Buildings Wellington

Burden of Alcohol Misuse Undermines Health Service

British alcohol health promotion agency, Alcohol Concern, has released a report on the impacts of alcohol on the British National Health Service. The report concludes that alcohol misuse is creating an enormous burden on an overloaded health system costing the country over $NZ 9 billion a year. The report outlines the impact of alcohol-related problems on hospitals and primary care services.

Alcohol misuse impacts on the NHS with:

Youth Affairs Strategy Released -
Alcohol Ignored

In February 2002, the Ministry of Youth Affairs released the "Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa". The strategy was developed over an eighteen month period after considerable consultation, including consultation with young people. It is intended that the strategy forms the basis for public sector agencies developing policy and initiatives for young people between the ages of 12 and 24 years. The Policy promotes a positive approach to youth development that avoids defining the young people as the problem. The Youth Development Strategy was criticised in the media on its release as lacking substance, however, it is hoped that document will provide direction for the development of youth policy. Unfortunately, strategies to address issues such as increased consumption of alcohol by young people, underage drinking and binge drinking are not included in the Youth Strategy.

Casswell Receives High Honour

Alcohol Healthwatch would like to congratulate Professor Sally Casswell on her appointment as chair of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Committee on Alcohol. Professor Casswell, Director of the Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit (APHRU) based at Auckland University has achieved international prominence for her work in alcohol research and policy development. Professor Casswell has been head of APHRU since its inception and during that time the unit has developed an outstanding research reputation. She hopes that her appointment to the WHO position will allow her to get alcohol issues placed higher on the world health agenda.

Police "Pulled Up"

The Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) has "pulled up" the Auckland Police after they used a 15 year old boy in a "sting" operation, in which he lied about his age when attempting to purchase alcohol. Judge Unwin and fellow LLA member John Crookston accepted that the Authority had previously supported the use of such volunteers, but ruled that the Police had overstepped the mark in telling the 15 year old to lie about his age if asked. The difference from the previous case in Onehunga was that the 17 year old volunteer had been able to purchase a 1125ml bottle of vodka despite giving her correct age. Being lied to by an underage purchaser would not be sufficient defence for the shop owner under the Sale of Liquor Act if the purchaser had completed the transaction.

"Sick and Tired"

Meanwhile Auckland Hospital emergency staff report being "sick and tired" of babysitting drug and alcohol overdosed patients at the weekend. According to emergency specialist Dr Bernard Foley, intoxicated and alcohol comatose youth remain number one on the list at the emergency department, with alcohol-related injuries still outnumbering party drug overdoses. "The number of comatose intoxicated teenagers has increased since the lowering of the drinking age" says Dr Foley.

Easter Binge

The Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) has once again recommended in its annual review to parliament that sections 14(2) and 37(1) of the Sale of Liquor Act be dropped. These sections preclude the sale of alcohol from hotels, taverns and off-licences on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day or before 1.00 p.m. ANZAC Day. The LLA has recommended (respectfully) that parliament revisit these issues. This fits with the LLA's general philosophical view that liquor should be available at anytime and anywhere (except service stations and dairies) and that availability has no impact on the amount of liquor abuse! Do we as a community really want to be able to buy alcohol on Easter Friday or Christmas Day? Rather than focusing on removing these restrictions, Alcohol Healthwatch believes there are more useful ways in which the Sale of Liquor Act can meet its objective of reducing alcohol-related harm including raising the drinking age back to 20!


Health Promotion Forum Conference 9-11 April 2002
Te Matauranga Maori and Christchurch Institute of Technology

3rd International Conference on Drugs and Young People 13-15 May 2002
Australian Drug Foundation
AJC Convention Centre, Ranwick Sydney, Australia

ALAC Partnerships Conference 13-14 June 2002
North Island Conference about alcohol use
Centra Hotel, Rotorua

People and Place - Public Health Association Conference 2002 26-28 June 2002
Human Health and Environment
To be held in Dunedin

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