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Big News: Enforce The Drinking Age

Big News with Dave Crampton

Enforce The Drinking Age

Many have said that lowering the drinking age to 18 in 1999 was a mistake. Everyone except the hospitality industry and some politicians appear to have concerns about the move. But raising the drinking age back to 20 won’t solve problems associated with teen drinking.

Perhaps the drinking age shouldn’t have been lowered. The real question, though, is if the Government is going to change laws it should ensure that such laws are enforced. No studies were done that indicated such a drinking law would be enforced, so it should be no surprise that the passage of a law by politicians blind to the realities of inadequate law enforcement has resulted in current problems associated with teen drinking.

Raising the drinking age won’t prevent teenagers drinking alcohol any more than raising the age of consent will stop teens having sex. Try restricting the availability of alcohol to teenagers. Start with getting booze out of the supermarkets and making parents responsible for providing alcohol prior to their teens committing crimes under the influence. Parents need to be deterred from giving alcohol to their kids – or providing money to buy alcohol - before they head off to parties or into town on a Friday night. You don’t need a law change to do that. Remember, it is the Sale of Liquor Act that was changed. There is no consumption of liquor act to fiddle around with.

It’s interesting to note the varied political viewpoints on the issue. Phil Goff is against raising the drinking age, NZ First supports it, and United Future’s Peter Dunne maintains education is the answer. What Government politicians have come out to say that enforcement of the current law is a step in the right direction?

Education is always a political answer, but it never works. Education hasn’t stopped kids having sex, it hasn’t stopped them smoking dope – or cigarettes for that matter - and it won’t prevent them from getting drunk. It’s not that education doesn’t work, it just never delivers as nobody can be bothered coming up with a convincing and persuasive education programme.

Phil Goff is against raising the drinking age as he wants proof of anecdotal evidence that relaxation has resulted in younger kids drinking more and getting into trouble. He doesn’t need proof of anecdotal evidence, all he needs to do is go down to Manners Street and Courtenay Place with Winston Peters one Friday night and keep his eyes open. Maybe Police Minister George Hawkins could tag along and observe police turning a blind eye to groups of drunken teens. It is ironic that these very officers want the drinking age restored to 20, yet they are unwilling to police the current law.

As a result of Goff’s stance, and perhaps Winston’s late night observations, NZ First intends to draft a Private Members Bill to restore the drinking age back to 20.

Yes, if the Government takes a stand on an issue, up pops a Private Members Bill. Nandor Tanczos is taking the same approach for getting cannabis decriminalised. Don’t be surprised if next year ACT MP Muriel Newman drafts a private members bill next year to reintroduce work-testing of the DBP when the numbers collecting the benefit raise by 1000 a year as a result of the recent passage of the Social Insecurity Amendment Bill.

The fact is that lowering the drinking age has caused more problems than raising it will fix. The only thing that raising it will do is prevent those under 20 legally purchasing alcohol.

An upward change in the drinking age won’t stop teens drinking any more than it will assist police in enforcing drinking laws. Police and authorities should enforce the law now.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at

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