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Time for tough decision-making on youth drinking

Martin Gallagher Labour Party MP for Hamilton West Matt Robson Progressive Party Deputy-Leader

29th March 2006

Time for tough decision-making on youth binge drinking

Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party, Matt Robson and Labour MP for Hamilton West, Martin Gallagher opened the public hearings for the Sale of Liquor (Youth Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill. Martin Gallagher has picked up Matt Robson's private member's bill to return the purchasing age of alcohol to 20 years and they will be jointly presenting the key issues they want the Select Committee to consider.

"The simple message we made to the committee is that the 1999 decision by Parliament to lower the alcohol purchasing age was a mistake.

"This bill was introduced not only because the decision in 1999 did not reverse the negative social indicators, as many had hoped at the time, but, in fact added to them. "Now MPs have the means to rectify the mistake that was made in 1999, and we have urged the committee to have the courage to do so.

"They will need courage because the liquor industry is a powerful force but the evidence will back the committee if it acts to reverse the current situation that leads to significant underage drinking.

"The evidence also supports the changes to alcohol advertising in this bill. These small steps will hopefully be added to by review of alcohol advertising recently announced by the government.

"But it really is time to put a brake on an industry intent on presenting drinking as harmless fun to our young.

"Basically it is time for tough decision-making on these issues, and that is what we have said to the committee. The bill is due to be returned back to Parliament on 30th June 2006 and progress of the bill will be dependent on the individual conscience votes of 121 MPs.





29th March 2006

Alcohol, like any drug, could be consumed safely if the directions on the prescription were followed. Usually the directions for drugs prescribed by doctors contain instructions such as:

Take only once a day – don’t exceed this dose Take with food Don’t give to minors Don’t drive after taking

And so forth.

That doesn’t happen with the drug alcohol. It is sold like an ordinary commodity.

In setting the parameters for prescribed drugs, law and regulation comply with expert advice not the advice of those who sell the drug.

In this bill before it the Committee will be able to draw on the evidence of public health experts and others associated professionals who can provide impartial and objective advice.

That the harm from alcohol has risen sharply since the amended Sale of Liquor Act in 1999 with its reduction of the purchase age and greatly liberalized access and outlet provisions is not in question.

What is in question is whether Parliamentarians will set aside any preconceived notions or personal opinions on this important public health issue and carefully weigh up the evidence that has been and will come before it.

I introduced this bill into Parliament in 2004 after reading two key reports on the effects of the reduction of the purchase age. One report was that of the Ministry of Justice and one was prepared for the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy. These reports led me to study many others. All the news was bad – particularly for young people.

Both of the ministerial reports provided alarming evidence of significant rises in harm to those in the 18-20 year age groups and those as young as 7 and 8. Under the 1999 law it was clear that minors were gaining significantly increased access to alcohol.

Both reports revealed that a significantly new public health problem caused by alcohol harm and access to alcohol affecting a younger and younger age group was in our midst.

Parents, police, health workers, educators and social agencies did not need the statistics to tell them that something was very wrong. However, the growing number of reports verifying that the 1999 law had not reduced alcohol harm and that the statistics were overwhelmingly negative confirmed the growing public unease.

Parliamentarians were forced to listen.


The bill before you covers 3 areas for reform:

a. Returning the purchase age to 20

b. Replacing the self-regulating Advertising Standards Authority with the Broadcasting Standards Authority to control the marketing of alcohol and restricting broadcast of liquor advertising before 10p.m. on any day.

c. Strengthening the provisions to prevent the sale and supply of liquor to minors.


This is not a provision to punish young people as some have suggested. It is a provision to diminish the harm that is occurring to those under 20 and is one of the steps recommended by national and international experts to reduce that harm.

Protection and nurturing is not the equivalent of punishment. Parliamentarians should not ignore, in all conscience, the following statistics that have appeared since the law change of 1999:

-more hazardous patterns of alcohol use by young people -increased prosecutions for drinking and driving -increased road traffic injuries -increased accident and emergency department attendances -increased alcohol –related hospitalizations -increased sexual health problems related to alcohol harm

Internationally public health experts are in agreement that the longer that it takes for a person to take up alcohol the lower the national percentage of harm. A higher purchase age is one of the factors that help to achieve lower harm.

There is growing neurological evidence that brain development can continue as late as the early twenties and that immoderate drinking of alcohol in those years is potentially very damaging to that development. Some research suggests the late teens. But on the precautionary approach, the normal practice in sound science, the safest practice is to ensure that only moderate drinking of alcohol occurs in the late teenage years. Unfortunately the binge drinking years in New Zealand are these very same years.

The harm caused by alcohol is of course not confined to the young. But the negative trends since the 1999 law in regard to young people are deeply, or should be, disturbing.

Alcohol Healthwatch (Fact Sheet: Young People and Alcohol reported the following:

Short term consequences from episodic heavy drinking include injury or death from drink driving crashes; risk of injury from assaults and falls while intoxicated; violence; high risk sexual activity; alcohol poisoning; increased risk of suicide; substance abuse; and decreased scholastic and work performance.

Longer- term harms associated with drinking include future dependence; liver diseases, increased risk of some cancers; heart arrhythmias; hypertension; cirrhosis; and pancreatitis.

None of the above consequences are tagged with “Yeah Right” or any of the other clever marketing tools of the liquor industry.

Confirmation of increasing harm since the lowering of the purchase age is given in the study done at the Auckland Accident and Emergency Department (Everitt and Jones 2002) which found a 52 percent increase or 18 and 19 year olds presenting with alcohol-related problems in the twelve months after lowering the purchase age from 20 to 18 years of age. There was a 37 percent increase in the number of under 18 year olds over the same period.

Similar results have been reported from a Christchurch study.

In studied concentrating on the effects of binge drinking among students the following was found (Alcohol Healthwatch Fact Sheet on Alcohol and University Students):

Of the Waikato drinkers surveyed, during the past academic year:

22% got into a car with a driver who had too much to drink or drove a car themselves when they had too much to drink 16% had ended up in a sexual situation they were not happy about 12% had unprotected sex with a new partner 12% had upset a new family member due to drinking 69% spent more than they intended on alcohol

In Dunedin the following was reported:

10% of male drinkers and 9% of female drinkers had unsafe sex 16% of males got into fights

The association of alcohol with crime is well understood. The studies show that there has been a large increase in youth offending, including serious crime, since the 1999 law change.


Evidence will be presented to the Committee that the advertising and marketing of alcohol is associated with making alcohol a product that is glamorous, sexy and leads to social success.

A counter opinion will be that advertising and marketing of alcohol does not increase the volume of sales but only the market share. You might well say – Yeah Right!

The counter evidence will be that the marketing of alcohol is part of expanding sales, introducing younger and younger people to harmful patterns of drinking alcohol and downplaying any harmful use of this drug in favour of the supposed glamour and social success that it will bring to the consumer.

Parliamentarians will need to assess this evidence and decide whether the limitations proposed by this bill on advertising will assist the aim of decreasing the harmful use of alcohol consumption.

Internationally the detrimental effect of advertising and marketing of alcohol is being recognized.

WHO Director-General Dr Gro Brundtland reported in 2001 that:

Over the past 10-15 years, we have seen that the young have become an important target for marketing of alcoholic products. When large marketing resources are directed towards influencing youth behaviour, creating a balanced and healthy attitude to alcohol becomes increasingly difficult. Based on these concerns, I am calling for a concerted review by international experts of marketing and promotion of alcohol to young people.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have publicly advocated a ban on alcohol advertising, especially on television. You will remember that once the advertising of cigarettes was permitted anywhere. Seeing Good Night and Good Luck brought this home to me. Then we woke up to the health consequence. Banning advertising was not the silver bullet. But it has been an essential part of the strategy to combat tobacco smoking.

Many countries that provide useful benchmarks for New Zealand have greatly restricted the advertising and marketing of the drug alcohol. In some cases there is even a total ban.

The proposal in the Bill is for broadcast advertising to be allowed only after 10p.m. and that the task be taken out of the hands of the ineffective self-regulating body the Advertising Standards Authority and given to the Broadcast Standards Authority.

In other words the fox will not guard the hen house.


Survey after survey has shown that minors are accessing alcohol either by purchasing themselves or through those of legal age.

The police dread the weekend calls where they arrive at parties where there are numerous intoxicated minors.

The examples of the increase in under-age drinking and the numerous harms that arise from that are well known to Parliamentarians.

It is an issue that has to be dealt with to protect those young people and society in general.

Young lives are being ruined now by the harmful use of alcohol.

There are a number of difficulties that the Select Committee will have to grapple with in regard to repealing 2 160 (3) (d).

However the Committee has to keep its eye on the main mischief that it should be aiming to remedy: the supplying of alcohol in an uncontrolled environment without the authority and supervision of parents or guardians. Every responsible parent or guardian, police officer and others in the frontline of concern for our youth want this mischief remedied.

The message must be that it is not acceptable to supply alcohol to under-age drinkers.


Always when there are hard decisions it is appealing to have a halfway house to avoid taking that hard decision.

The problems with banning sales in off licence premises to those under 20 and allowing them at 18 in licensed premises are numerous:

The heavy drinking patterns among those under 20 are occurring on licensed premises

It will lead to allowing 18-19 year olds being on licensed premises and licencees setting up a purchasing system to get around the purchase rule of 20 on off-licence premises

It introduces the type of complexity that existed with the pre-1999 law that allowed many schemes to get around the minimum purchase age requirements.

CONCLUSION Parliament is the body that needs to deal with the serious issue of alcohol harm among all sectors of our population.

But it has a particular duty in regard to the youth of New Zealand.

The statistics are stark. In almost every area of possible harm the trend has been a sharp rise upwards since the 1999 law.

The age groups presenting with serious harm are getting younger and younger.

Meanwhile the marketing of the drug alcohol is getting more and more sophisticated with key alcohol becoming household names with never a mention of the serious health problems that occur with this drug. Fun and glamour are the associations with alcohol. More diseases, including cancers, originate from alcohol than from tobacco.

It is not an issue that can be swept under the carpet.

It is to this Committee that the public is looking for a serious inquiry and resolution of the matters that have been addressed in this submission and the many submissions that are before you.


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