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Minister Releases National Alcohol Strategy

20 May 2001

ACTING HEALTH Minister Tariana Turia today launched the Government's National Alcohol Strategy, calling for government and non-government agencies, the wider community and individuals to work together to help minimise alcohol-related harm.

This document serves as the Government’s action plan to target alcohol-related harm. It outlines key outcome targets, strategies that will be implemented over time, and the monitoring framework.

"Everyone has a stake in making this strategy work, and everyone can benefit if it does," said Tariana Turia. "I encourage people to work together to bring this strategy to life and help minimise the alcohol-related harm that currently impacts on our lives.

"While many people manage to drink alcohol without harming themselves or others, the fact remains that misuse of alcohol results in considerable health, social and economic costs, which are borne by individuals, families and the wider community.

"Whether it be physical harm, mental health problems, injury and death on the roads, drownings, violence, fetal abnormalities, absenteeism and impaired work performance, the social costs of alcohol misuse in New Zealand are estimated to be between $1.5-billion and $2.4-billion.

"This strategy aims to help minimise alcohol-related harm in New Zealand. While we have already made some progress, the costs still remain too high.

"This Government is committed to reducing alcohol-related harm and has instituted a range of responses. Guidelines have been developed to place limits on the marketing of alcohol – alcoholic sodas in particular - to ensure that manufacturers and retailers do not target young people.

"These initiatives support ongoing approaches to target alcohol-related harm. For example, the excise tax on alcohol, the purchase of alcohol health education and promotion materials by the Ministry of Health and the Alcohol Advisory Council, drink driving initiatives which are impacting on New Zealand’s road toll, and enforcement activities by health protection officers and the New Zealand Police," said Ms Turia.

Copies of the strategy can be viewed on http:// http://www.ndp.govt.nz

Questions and Answers about the National Alcohol Strategy

What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a generic name given to series of organic compounds, most of which are highly toxic to human. Only one type of alcohol - ethanol, or ethyl alcohol - is fermented or distilled for use in beverages that are meant for human consumption. Alcohol is a psychoactive (mind-altering) drug and is one of the most widely used drugs in the world.

What is alcohol related harm?
The most significant types of alcohol-related harm include:
deaths and physical health problems from alcohol-related conditions, for example liver cirrhosis
alcohol dependence and other mental health problems
effects on unborn children
drink-driving fatalities and injuries
violence both within and beyond the home.

As well as directly causing deaths, alcohol-related health problems cause distress and disability and result in a significant and costly use of health services. Alcohol-related hospitalisations are estimated to cost New Zealand more than $74-million each year.

What is the pattern of alcohol consumption in New Zealand?
Although total consumption has declined over the past 15-20 years, and in 1996 dropped below the Ministry of Health's target of 8.7 litres by the year 2000, there is still considerable variation in the amount of alcohol consumed by New Zealanders.
A national survey in 1995 found that 10 percent of drinkers drank almost half the total amount of alcohol consumed - the equivalent of 31 cans of beer each week. The heaviest 5 percent of drinkers alone were responsible for drinking a third of all alcohol, consumed, each one drinking an equivalent of 63 cans of beer a week. These heavier drinkers were predominantly young men.

What is the social cost of alcohol misuse in New Zealand?
When used in moderation, alcohol can reduce the risk of certain illness for some groups. However, when alcohol is misused, the resulting harms can be considerable. These harms include physical and mental health problems, injury and death on the roads, drowning, violence, fetal abnormalities, absenteeism and impaired work performance. In annual terms, the social costs alone of alcohol misuse in New Zealand have been estimated as being between $1.5-billion and $2.4-billion.

What is the National Alcohol Strategy?
The overall goal of the National Alcohol Strategy is to help minimise alcohol-related harm to individuals, family/whanau, the community and New Zealand Society. The Strategy outlines specific objectives and strategies needed to significantly reduce alcohol-related harm by 2003. Targets have been set to reducing the prevalence of drinking among pregnant women, reducing the prevalence of binge drinking amongst young people including young Maori and Pacific peoples and reducing the rate of road accidents involving drivers who have consumed alcohol.

Where does this strategy fit in relation to the New Zealand Health Strategy and the National Drug Policy?
The National Alcohol Strategy sits under the New Zealand Health Strategy and the National Drug Policy.
The New Zealand Health Strategy sets the platform for change and identifies key priority areas, including minimising the harm associated with alcohol misuse.
The National Drug Policy outlines the Government's commitment to minimise all drug-related harm and identifies various priority areas and desired outcomes. The National Alcohol Strategy is more specific. It develops a set of strategies by which to achieve the alcohol-related targets that are listed in the National Drug Policy.

Is this the first time the Government has developed a national policy statement on alcohol?
No. In recognition of the health, social and economic costs of harmful alcohol use, the Government released a national policy statement on alcohol in mid 1996, as one part of its combined National Drug Policy. This document recognises that, on one hand, when used in moderation and in non-hazardous situations, alcohol can provide personal and social benefits, but on the other hand, when it is misused or is used in risky situations, alcohol can also cause great damage to individual drinkers, their families and the wider community. The policy approach to alcohol, therefore was not to try to prevent its use altogether, but rather to minimise the harm associated with alcohol.


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