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Precautionary Approach Best With Youth & Alcohol

19 May 2004

Precautionary approach best when dealing with youth & alcohol

Alcohol abuse among the young is one of society's biggest challenges and it is best to adopt a cautious approach when looking at ways of addressing the problem, Progressive leader, Jim Anderton, said today.

Jim Anderton, who is chairperson of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, was today challenged in Parliament by the Green Party over his recent comments on a Justice Ministry report issued on Monday.

The report found that young people who use alcohol are doing so more often, and in greater volumes, than they did in 1999, when the legal minimum age was 20.

"In 1999, the Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Drug Foundation and other public health organizations including ALAC all opposed lowering New Zealand’s drinking age.

"Their case was based on research evidence of increases in alcohol- related harm when drinking ages were lowered in Australia, Canada and the United States," the Progressive leader said.

"When Canada and the United States changed track and raised their drinking ages again, alcohol-related harm decreased," Jim Anderton said.

"There was a decrease in alcohol use among U.S. teenagers that persisted into their early 20s. A comprehensive analysis, carried out in 2000, of published U.S. research found that raising the drinking age appeared to be more effective than a wide range of other strategies aimed at reducing youth drinking," the Progressive leader said.


The Ministry of Justice report into the consequences of lowering the drinking age showed that those, especially in the 14 to 17 year old category who drank, were drinking more and more often.

Police evidence cited in the report showed frontline police have had to deal with rising numbers of drunk and disorderly teenagers since the drinking age was lowered in 1999, with the number of minors dealt with by police on alcohol-related matters increasing from 834 incidents in 1994 to 2597 in 2002.

Teen drivers affected by alcohol caused 23 deaths and 274 injury crashes last year continuing a rising trend since the drinking age was lowered in 1999.

When the Bill introducing the lower age was debated in the House five years ago, the then National Party Minister of Justice said its purpose was “to establish …control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse…”

The report this week said that on balance the legislative change in the drinking age in 1999 indicates “a detrimental effect on young people’s drinking behaviour”

The report also states that ”the proportion of 14-15 year olds who consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months has not significantly increased” but it has increased – how significant an increase must we wait for before we do something to stop our 14-15 year olds from drinking alcohol.

It also found there is a change in the prevalence of drinking in 16-17 year olds although “not a significant change”. And the prevalence of drinking by 18-19 year olds also went up, but it was a “slight” increase - the increase being higher in young women.

The Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy has agreed its next meeting will focus entirely on alcohol issues


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