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Research findings on lowering the drinking age

Research findings on the possible effects of lowering the drinking age

Statement from the Ministerial Action Group on Drugs and Alcohol

Justice Minister Phil Goff today released the second Ministry of Justice statistical report on the possible effects of lowering the minimum drinking age in 1999.

“The research findings again show diverse trends without a clear picture of whether the change in legislation has had a detrimental effect on young people’s drinking behaviour.

“It concludes that the time frame is still too short for conclusive analysis of the impact of lowering the drinking age.

“Apprehensions for disorderly behaviour by those under 20 increased but had been doing so prior to the law change. The same is true for those prosecuted for alcohol-related traffic offending.

“However the numbers of 15-19 year-old drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes and the percentage of drivers under 20 who were breath tested and exceeded the legal breath alcohol limit showed no negative impact from lowering the legal drinking age.

“Alcohol was not found to be a major reason for students being suspended from school.

“However, while the jury is still out on whether lowering the legal drinking age to 18 in the Sale of Liquor Act 1999 has significantly contributed to alcohol abuse by teenagers, the fact remains that alcohol and drug use is a serious and increasing problem for young people.

“Debate focusing on the appropriate legal age for the purchase of alcohol should not be allowed to distract attention from the serious underlying problem of a growing binge-drinking culture in young people.

“Changing behaviour is a far more fundamental and important challenge than simply changing the law.

“In some European countries like Italy for example, there has traditionally been no legal drinking age but problems with drunkenness have been far less pronounced than has been the case in New Zealand.

“It is perhaps too easy for adults to condemn drinking behaviour by young people while themselves continuing a culture which does not regard drunkenness as stupid and unacceptable.

“The Ministerial Action Group is consulting widely in the community over steps which need to be taken to attach the same stigma to binge-drinking and drunkenness which now applies to drinking and driving.

“Among the steps being taken or under consideration by the Group are

Stepping up enforcement of the law prohibiting sale of liquor to under-18-year-olds through Police Controlled Purchase Operations and prosecutions. Encouraging parents to question the wisdom of supplying alcohol to their under-age children without regard to where and how much they drink and the likely consequences. Reviewing the effectiveness of current school programmes on alcohol and drug consumption as a means of reducing demand for those substances. Considering whether excise levels on alcohol such as alcopops favoured by young people should be adjusted to create a price constraint. Examining the impact of media culture and advertising on youth alcohol consumption. Considering treatment options and legal response to those whose behaviour is affected by alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.

“Some progress has already been made in these areas including a very positive response from supermarkets which have moved to increase compliance with liquor sale laws after meeting with Ministers.

“While there are no quick-fix solutions, the Government is committed to working with community and interest groups to achieve a more responsible approach to alcohol consumption and to reduce the social, economic and human costs of alcohol abuse,” Mr Goff said.

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