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Alcohol is NZ's No. 1 problem drug - Speech Notes

Alcohol is New Zealand's Number One problem drug

09 October 2003
Jim Anderton's Speeches

Everyone here today knows that alcohol-related harm is a serious issue.

- In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a serious problem with methamphetamines.

- But - serious as that problem is - it only directly affects a small part of the population.

- Alcohol in comparison is New Zealand's Number One problem drug.

- But we're not here to be wowsers; Alcohol is also New Zealand's Number One recreational drug.

- Alcohol doesn't harm everyone who uses it and so the emphasis is on controlling harm.

But it must be said - plainly and strongly.

Alcohol related harm is New Zealand's No. 1 drug problem - I say that advisedly but deliberately - because when alcohol is abused it is a dangerous mind and behaviour altering drug. Consider some of its effects:

- deaths and physical health problems from alcohol-related conditions

- alcohol dependence and other mental health problems

- effects on unborn children

- drink-driving fatalities and injuries

- violence and crime both within and beyond the home -

Dr Wiggers, who is speaking to you today I know, has very interesting figures from Australia and New Zealand in relation to violence and crime associated with alcohol abuse. Dr Wiggers was a guest of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy last night and we are listening carefully to his professional advice.

- workplace injuries and lost productivity

- drownings

We're here today to listen to strategies for reducing harm such as this.

There are here today central and local government agencies, as well as community groups with innovative and successful ideas.

We're here to listen to those strategies and look ahead at what we can do better.

The government fully supports your efforts to control alcohol-related harm.

I believe my appointment as chair of the ministerial committee on drug policy signals the government's intention.

It means we're going to deal with the issues of concern to you, strongly and effectively.

The government's role is to work as a partner with the community.

I recognise the expertise and successes of participants here today.

Some of the solutions to alcohol -related harm may lie with regulation.

But the majority will be outside the scope of regulation.

The solution lies in things like community attitudes and opportunities for young people.

It is policies such as:

¡P where and when local authorities allow drinking to take place and intervention in families and individual cases when it is needed

¡P education programmes such as Think before you supply under-18s drink.

¡P A cultural change in New Zealanders' attitude to drinking and the inherent dangers of alcohol abuse.

Think campaign

The Wellington region "Think before you buy under-18s drink' campaign is a good example of a community response.

- Research shows that under-18 campaigns are only successful if there is partnership between agencies.

- Solutions need to be applied at the local level.

- The campaign pulled in media, shops, NGOs, the industry as well as central and local government agencies, including police and health.

- This approach has heightened effectiveness and support for the programme.

- It shows communities themselves can make immense differences in reducing alcohol related harm.

Teen drinking

The costs of alcohol related harm are especially apparent among our young.

- In 1998, about 15 per cent of young women aged 14-17 drank four or more drinks in one sitting at least once a week.

- That was high then.

- Today, recent survey data shows the proportion has nearly doubled.

- 28% of young women are drinking more than four drinks at a time at least once a week.

- This is girls under 17!

- Drinking by young men is at even higher levels.

Drinking age

I personally believe it was wrong to reduce the drinking age.

-It sent the wrong message about alcohol

- Anecdotal evidence is that it contributed to an increase in binge drinking.

-But anecdotes aren't enough.

-We are still collecting facts.

-When the evidence is in, we will if necessary be ready to make a new decision.

- I will be interested in feedback on this topic.

Light spirits tax

The government also targeted teen drinking by targeting so-called "lite spirits'

-These used to enjoy a tax rate that made them the binge drinkers' choice.

Binge drinkers are interested in bangs for bucks.

- So the duty on lite sprits was increased.

- It has been successful.

- The volume of light spirits available for sale decreased 90% between April and June - that is, from the time the coalition government introduced increased excisze taxes on high alcohol-content but so-called 'light' spirits.

- Of course, it brought some angry protests from sherry drinkers who were caught in the tax increase.

- If they hadn't been, teen binge drinkers would have switched to sherry.

- It is useful to have community leaders come forward and speak out on these issues.

- Otherwise the political momentum to target binge drinking can be lost.

- The Parliamentary opposition savagely attacked the new tax.

- Without politicising this event, one can only balance that if there is a change of government, the tax on light spirits will be cut.

- Teen binge drinking will increase.

I would like to quickly mention some other coalition government initiatives to reduce alcohol related harm.

- I won't go into detail - because I know you have speakers with expertise coming up later.

Pseudo patron surveys

- The Ministry of Health is paying for a study to see if off-licence premises are selling 18-year olds alcohol without asking for ID.

- In addition, the police are running controlled purchase operations.

- This is where underage kids attempt to buy alcohol under a police officer's supervision.

- They are used to prosecute premises pushing alcohol to kids.

- A recent District Court decision has thrown doubt on the legality of these operations.

- Police are looking at options to clarify the legal status.

- If new laws are required, they will have my support.

Warning labels

- Warning labels will be introduced about the dangers of heavy drinking during pregnancy.

- This requires the Australia-New Zealand food standards code to be amended.

- Research on foetal alcohol syndrome is also being funded.

Public awareness campaigns

- The Police are also running an awareness campaign about the dangers of drink-spiking and how to stay safe.


The Ministry of Health funds two NGOs to provide alcohol health promotion messages.

The Theatre in Health Education Trust is a theatre-based alcohol programme that complements drug and alcohol programmes in schools.

Students Against Drunk Driving promotes alternatives to drink driving in schools and tertiary institutions.

The Ministry of Health also funds the Drug Foundation and Alcohol Healthwatch to provide information and advocacy about alcohol related issues


I know there are many more ideas and strategies underway.

I wish you all the best in discussing them today.

The costs of abuse are borne by individuals, families and the wider community.

There is no question that we need to do better as a whole community in reducing alcohol related harm.

I have a personal commitment to the alcohol issue.

My political goal is to see everyone become the best they can be and realise their potential as human beings.

I know from my own experience you can't do that when you're smashed on alcohol or drugs.

If we are serious about providing young people with an opportunity, then we will do better.

If we want a safer community, where our kids can fulfil their potential, then we must begin now.

We need to be innovative in our solutions.

We can't just prohibit alcohol or spread alarmist messages.

We need judicious, targeted campaigns at the actual causes of alcohol.

We need to be clear that it is abuse that causes harm.

We need to change the attitudes that make alcohol abuse OK.

Changing attitudes requires a culture shift.

It requires a culture where every young person is valued and has opportunities.

It requires a culture where healthy is fashionable, and harmful abuse is not.

I personally believe our young people are worth that effort.

I am committed to making it happen.

I am committed to working with those agencies that share these goals.

I wish you well as you discuss your strategies, and ours, today.


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