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8 Point Plan For Action On Alcohol

8 Point Plan For Action On Alcohol

Alcohol is the fifth leading cause of death globally (third in ‘western/developed’ nations). In New Zealand, over 1000 deaths are attributed to alcohol every year.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation – Te Tûâpapa Tarukino o Aotearoa seeks to minimise the harm caused by legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as illegal drugs, such as cannabis.

We make the following recommendations to policy and decision makers. These recommendations are a clear and achievable way for government to tackle the serious harm of alcohol in New Zealand.

1. Increase Excise Tax on Alcohol
2. Return the Drinking Age to 20
3. Strengthen the Sale of Liquor Act to Reduce Teenage Drinking
4. Increase Effective Enforcement
5. Discontinue Alcohol Ads on Television and Radio
6. Allow Communities More Control Over Liquor Licensing
7. Improve Treatment Services Nationwide
8. Discontinue 'Conscience Voting' on Alcohol Issues

Increase Excise Tax on Alcohol

The Drug Foundation recommends alcohol excise taxes be levied to effect a reduction of heavy drinking and alcohol-related harm. Research shows that raising the price of alcohol can reduce alcohol-related harm and that young people’s drinking is particularly sensitive to price. In New Zealand, strong beer and some spirits-based drinks are currently under-taxed and therefore cheap compared to other drinks.

Because of their impact on alcohol pricing, higher alcohol taxes are considered by the World Health Organisation to be one of the most effective policies for reducing alcohol-related harm. A recent Alcohol Advisory Council report recommended a single tax rate based on alcohol content and suggested an increase of $6 per litre of pure alcohol – the Drug Foundation endorses this. Return the Drinking Age to 20 The Drug Foundation recommends a minimum age of 20, with no exemptions, for the purchase of alcohol.

With availability of alcohol liberalised, the per occasion quantities being drunk by teenagers increased over the 1990s, a period during which the number of alcohol outlets doubled and hours of trading were increased. The lowering of the drinking age has made a bad situation worse. Since December 1999, the number of infringement notices given to minors demonstrates a high level of alcohol supply to under-age drinkers, whether purchased illegally or legally by someone over 18. The proportion of 15-19 year olds among drink drivers had been decreasing, but rose again in 2001. Returning the drinking age to 20 will require an amendment to the Sale of Liquor Act.

Strengthen the Sale of Liquor Act to Reduce Teenage Drinking The Drug Foundation recommends the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 be strengthened to improve monitoring and enforcement of current laws against sale and supply of alcohol to minors. Increased resources for monitoring and enforcement are also needed to help reduce teenage drinking. The two recommended amendments are: Require licensees to actually ask for ID Clarify law on supply of alcohol to minors by other adults.

Require licensees to actually ask for ID

Pseudo-patrons projects and drinking surveys show that evidence of age documents are often not being asked for. Sellers of alcohol are not required by law to ask for ID under current legislation, although this can be a defence if alcohol is sold to a minor.

This makes it difficult for licensing inspectors, police or public health officers to require or enforce age verification practices. Asking all young adults under 25 to show ID is now the in-house policy of two supermarket chains, and this appears to be acceptable to customers.

To ensure all small and large outlets also do this, a legal requirement for licensees and staff to ask everyone who looks under 25 to show an approved evidence of age document. Since the mid-1990s, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Northern Territory have all made legislative amendments to strengthen age verification practices to enforce the drinking age. Clarify law on ‘social’ supply to minors by other adults Alcohol is currently being supplied to minors by people over 18 who are not their parents or guardians.

Police regularly respond to complaints about out-of-control, inadequately supervised parties where alcohol has been supplied by adults to other people’s children. They find it very difficult to investigate or prosecute the supplier of the alcohol under Section 160 as written.

Enforceability can be improved by removing the need to prove ‘intention’ to supply and the exception for supply ‘at private social gatherings’. Increase Effective Enforcement The Drug Foundation recommends that there be improved and increased efforts in the enforcement of existing regulations. Efforts by other countries have shown that increased enforcement of licensing laws can reduce local alcohol-related harm.

In New Zealand, full and effective use of current legislative powers would involve: Increased resources for monitoring and enforcement Making full use of available sanctions Prosecuting adults who supply alcohol to minors or purchase on their behalf (except parents). Increased resources for monitoring and enforcement Licensing inspectors report that late night monitoring of licensed premises and other proactive strategies are limited by resources.

The work of district licensing agencies and the Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) from licence application fees (about $5 a week if renewed for a three year period). Police report focusing on ‘problem premises’ that come to their attention because of limited resources for monitoring off-licensed as well as on-licensed premises. The time and detailed work required to take cases before the LLA or District Court is also limited by police resources.

An increase in alcohol excise tax rates could provide increased resources, if this were dedicated to monitoring and enforcement work. This funding would reduce in the medium term, as higher taxation contributing to higher prices is expected to impact on alcohol consumption. The primary purpose of excise taxation should be a public health one, not revenue gathering, but use of any additional resources for enforcement would help also reduce alcohol related harm.

Making full use of available sanctions

The Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) regards sales to minors as a serious reflection on the suitability of a licensee and has been increasingly willing to suspend or cancel licences for this and other infringements of the Sale of Liquor Act. Its power to do so has recently been confirmed by the Court of Appeal (CA178/02).

The Act also includes finable offences that can be prosecuted in the District Courts. In 1999, Parliament doubled the fines and included a one-week licence suspension in a hierarchy of sanction options. However, the fines imposed by District Courts so far have been extremely small. Action needs to be taken by the Ministers of Justice, Police and Health and by the LLA to raise awareness about alcohol issues in judicial circles and stress the importance of addressing alcohol sale and supply offences.

An infringement notice system is available for minors purchasing alcohol or drinking in public places, but not using false evidence of age. The Drug Foundation recommends that the infringement notice system be extended to also cover offences by licensees and their staff – say, all offences that incur a fine of $2,000 or less.

This could include failure to request an evidence of age document of purchasers who appear to be under 25 years of age. Prosecuting adults who purchase alcohol on behalf of minors, or supply alcohol to other people’s children Surveys indicate that people aged over 18 who are not parents or guardians are a source of alcohol supply to minors.

Increased public drinking by minors, including teenagers aged 14-15, suggests a ‘trickle down’ effect from lowering the drinking age. Police and off-licensees consider that minors are obtaining alcohol that is legally purchased by adult customers, either friends aged over 18 or by approaching intending purchasers. There are currently few prosecutions, and therefore probably low expectation of prosecution.

Amendments to S.160 would enable prosecution of adults who supply alcohol to unsupervised, out-of-control teenager parties. A few high profile prosecutions with large fines could support ALAC media campaigns to make adults more aware of the risks associated with supplying alcohol to minors.

Discontinue Alcohol Ads on Television and Radio

The Drug Foundation recommends television and radio alcohol ads be discontinued. There is now considerable research showing that alcohol advertising influences the attitudes to alcohol and later drinking behaviour of children and young people.

Alcohol sponsorship logos on sports and other televised programmes also links drinking to events and lifestyles that are attractive to younger teenagers. Because a few large alcohol producers purchase a large amount of broadcast advertising, broadcast advertising is purchased at heavily discounted rates, even on state-owned television.

Although alcohol ads are restricted to after 9 pm, 25 percent of all 10-17 years are watching television between 9 pm and 9.30 (Neilsen Media Research 2002). Voluntary industry codes of advertising standards do not address the way alcohol advertising works. Research shows that linking alcohol brands and drinking to attractive young adult lifestyles influences younger teenagers’ attitudes to alcohol and their drinking patterns.

The Ministry of Health also supports a ban on broadcast alcohol advertising. In its submission to the 2003 review of the Code of Liquor Advertising, the Ministry said that discontinuance of alcohol advertising would assist in eliminating some of the social pressures on young people not to ‘under-consume’ alcohol.

Discontinuance would affect all producers equally and, since producers maintain that advertising is about market share not increased sales, overall sales revenues would not be affected. Instead, the advertising industry now allows itself to show alcohol ads from 8.30 pm, a time when 25 percent of children are watching.

This, and other parts of the Code, will not stop alcohol advertising influencing children and young people’s attitudes and drinking behaviour. Allow Communities More Control Over Liquor Licensing The Drug Foundation recommends communities be given greater local control over liquor licensing. The Laking review that led to the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act discussed the need for greater community control over liquor licensing.

However, the Liquor Licensing Authority has repeatedly reported to Parliament that it finds itself unable to respond to the reasonable concerns raised by communities because of a current gap between planning and licensing. Key issues are sites that are unsuitable locations for licensed premises and over-density of outlets in a saturated alcohol market, contributing to local alcohol-related problems.

To increase community input of local alcohol issues, the Drug Foundation recommends: Amending licence granting criteria to allow consideration of neighbouring land use Fuller use of community consultation and council policy and planning powers Funding community action on alcohol related harm.

Amending licence granting criteria to allow consideration of neighbouring
land use Most public objections to licences are about particular sites and anticipated impacts on neighbours (including schools, churches and hospitals which were covered by previous legislation). District Plans under the Resource Management Act (RMA) consider zones, not particular sites.

A small amendment to the Sale of Liquor Act (Ss.13, 35, 59, 79) could help improve the effectiveness of licensing decisions, by allowing neighbouring land use to be considered in granting a licence, not just in setting hours of trading. Fuller use of community consultation and council policy and planning powers Although the location of licensed premises comes under the RMA, few District Plans currently address the sale of liquor, and few Councils have formal policies about the location of different kinds of licensed outlets or their hours of trading.

However, liquor licences are conditional on planning consents, the terms of which can be shaped by Council Plans and policies. Some communities believe that an excessive number of alcohol outlets increases teenage drinking in their locality.

Manukau City, for example, has 480 alcohol outlets and a high youth population. After introduction of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 the number of liquor licences doubled. In the late 1990s they stabilised around 11,000, but have now reached 14,211.

US research has linked high density of alcohol outlets in low socio-economic areas to high levels of alcohol related harm. Funding should be given to the same kind of geo-spatial alcohol research in New Zealand.

It is possible that the long-term council community plans under the Local Government Act may offer opportunities to improve planning and policy making for licensed outlets. Funding community action on alcohol related harm There is now considerable evidence, both New Zealand and internationally, that community action projects can help reduce local alcohol-related harm.

Projects ‘rooted in the community’ harness the local knowledge of agencies, and community organisations and business people to develop priorities and strategies for addressing alcohol-related harm and young people’s drinking. A national funding strategy is needed to ensure that community action programmes are supported and targeted to all areas of great need.

Improve Treatment Services Nationwide The Drug Foundation recommends greater improvements in nationwide alcohol and other drug treatment services. There is a real and urgent problem with lack of residential beds for those with severe problems for whom outpatient care will be ineffective. There are difficulties treating people with both mental health problems and alcohol and other drug problems in terms of links between services and training in dealing with dual-diagnosis.

Progress is being made in development of services for young people in some areas and further work is needed to ensure national coverage. Discontinue ‘Conscience Voting’ on Alcohol Issues The Drug Foundation recommends alcohol not be a conscience issue for parliamentary voting, rather political parties should have strong public health policies relating to alcohol.

Alcohol policy issues need to be a fully informed and debated part of political parties’ public health policies, particularly in an MMP environment. Alcohol is a high cost item for public health. One estimate says that without the direct costs of alcohol related harm, loss of life and loss of potential productivity, New Zealand’s GNP could be four percent higher.

Voting on alcohol issues should reflect parties’ policies on health. Conscience voting, which originated in past battles between the temperance movement and the liquor trade, is no longer appropriate. Large donations from the alcohol industry at election time also date back to those times. New Zealanders no longer see drinking as a moral issue, but are concerned about increased risks and harmful consequences.

Conscience votes on alcohol and alcohol industry funding are a combination that may reflect badly on any party or government’s reputation for transparent policy making. We further recommend all political parties develop strong public health alcohol policies to be included in their 2005 election manifestos.


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