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Hazardous drinking rates stable - Govt tinkering ineffective

Hazardous drinking rates remain virtually the same: Government tinkering predictably not effective

The New Zealand Health Survey shows a minimal drop in overall hazardous drinking in New Zealand over the past seven years (from 18 to 16%) despite factors that should normal bring about a more substantial drop - an aging population, increasing immigration from Asia and a recession. But even more concerning is that this minimal drop has occurred during a period of ‘alcohol reform’ by the National-led government. A two-point percentage drop in hazardous drinking under the circumstances represents a failure in national leadership on this issue; an issue which can be solved through appropriate governmental measures.

The rate of hazardous drinking amongst men has dropped minimally from 26 to 22%, but the rate remains the same in women (11%). Although, encouragingly, the rate has decreased in 15-17 year olds (19 to 14%) the rate amongst 45-54 year olds has actually increased from 12 to 16%.

The National-led government has carefully managed to delay any real alcohol reform for adults over their last two terms; until 1 December 2014 when the new BAC for adult driving came into law. The reduction in the youth BAC for driving to zero several years ago is likely to be one of the factors influencing the drop in youth rates of heavy drinking.

Minimal impact on heavy drinking amongst adults was predicted in 2010 when the government ignored all of the most effective measures recommended by the Law Commission in its historic review of the liquor laws (marketing, pricing and age of purchase in particular). The National-led government instead opted for a raft of tinkerings to the way alcohol is supplied and sold, and hasn’t stopped talking up these minimal changes.

Unless the government becomes committed to improving the safety and health of New Zealanders and takes a lead in effective (real) alcohol law reform, New Zealand will continue to have a damaging heavy drinking culture. The most important measures the government can do at this point are:

1. Phase out all alcohol sponsorship and advertising (except objective written product information)
2. Raise the price of alcohol through minimum pricing and increasing alcohol taxes
3. Admit that its Local Alcohol Policy scheme is failing and take control of establishing new national trading hours and liquor outlet density measures
4. Raise the purchase age of alcohol

Unfortunately, these effective measures are the very things that the alcohol industry strongly lobbies the government to not engage in; or if public opinion becomes too strong to ignore then at least to delay engagement. However, the fact this National-led government did finally reduce the BAC for adult driving shows it is not completely resistant to change, which offers hope for 2015 and this third term of the National-led government.

ENDS

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