Drinking Age And The National Alcohol Strategy
Media Release From The Alcohol Advisory Council
The Alcohol Advisory Council strongly supports the Government’s move to review the legal drinking age, but adds that any such review must be set in the wider context of the National Alcohol Strategy release earlier this year. “The ‘should the drinking age have been lowered’ debate should not be at the expense of strengthening a package of measures to reduce alcohol misuse” said Professor Andrew Hornblow, ALAC Chairman. ALAC is responding to and supporting Justice Minister Phil Goff’s announcement that he has instigated a review of issues relating to the lowering of the drinking age in 1999.
The National Alcohol Strategy, which is backed by extensive New Zealand and overseas research, acknowledges that no single measure will solve the problem of alcohol misuse. The Strategy advocates a co-ordinated programme to control supply, to reduce demand, and to minimise harm once problems have become apparent.
“The complexity of the situation is illustrated by the overall decrease in alcohol consumption over the 1990’s, despite a significant increase in alcohol outlets, though with a worrying trend toward more serious and earlier alcohol misuse among the young, particularly widespread binge drinking” said Professor Hornblow.
“Having the age back at 20 will help, but not necessarily stop 10 year olds needing resuscitation in our emergency departments. The problem runs much deeper than that and is all about the ease with which young people can access large supplies of alcohol, most often from friends and family. A co-ordinated package of measures could include compulsory requesting of ID, tightening of the law regarding supply of alcohol to underage drinkers, educational and community programmes to change attitudes which encourage alcohol abuse, maintenance of a no-tolerance approach to drink-driving, and implementation of guidelines for alcohol use at public events”.
Professor Hornblow referred to international research evidence that shows a relationship between the age when a young person starts to drink and the risk of addiction and other problems later in life.
“There is increasing evidence from a number of countries, including New Zealand, that the younger a person starts drinking the greater the chance that they will face serious problems further down the track. We should be encouraging young people to delay drinking at least until they are in senior secondary school. Instead we happily assist them to obtain alcohol because the law says they can’t buy it themselves. Changing our attitudes is never easy, but that is what we must do, and back this up with a package of measures to reinforce behaviour change toward more responsible alcohol use” said Professor Hornblow.