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Split age risks return to drink law shambles

29 March, 2006

Split age risks return to drink law shambles

The Drug Foundation today rejected a proposal to introduce a split-age for the Sale of Liquor Act, telling Parliament's Law and Order Select Committee that such a move would wind the clock back to when confusion reigned over liquor licensing laws.

Executive Director Ross Bell said that there was no evidence to support a split-age model and instead urged a return to a consistent age of 20 years, backed by mandatory identification checks for all those who look younger than 25 years old.

"In 1999, one of the strongest arguments that led to the alcohol purchase age being lowered to 18 was to clear up the confusion caused by a split-age," said Mr Bell.

"The police were among numerous organisations in 1999 that endorsed lowering the age to 18 to eliminate the mishmash of exemptions based on where young people were drinking, who they were drinking with and whether they were eating.

"To reintroduce split-age liquor laws simply risks a return to that confusion. It was hard to enforce the law then, and resulted in a 'de facto' age of 18 as licensees exploited loopholes caused by the exemptions.

"There is no evidence to support different ages of purchase. At best, a split-age would be another experiment. We firmly believe that New Zealand has experimented long enough with the health of young New Zealanders," he said.

Mr Bell cited evidence showing that since 1999 alcohol-related harm to young people had worsened, 18-19 year olds were now New Zealand's heaviest drinkers, and rates of alcohol-related arrests and hospitalisations had increased.

The Drug Foundation also recommended mandatory identification for purchasers who look young than 25 and lowering the blood-alcohol-content (BAC) limit to 0.05gm/100ml for all drivers over 20, and a zero limit for drivers under 20.

"Many supermarkets already operate a mandatory identification policy with no problems," said Mr Bell. "We would like to see this made law so it applies consistently to all places that sell alcohol.

"We also endorse lowering the BAC limit to further reduce the problem of drink-driving, and to bring us into line with many other countries that have that limit, including Australia," he said.


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