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Debate Over Legal Age to Buy Alcohol a Distraction

Debate Over Legal Age to Buy Alcohol a Distraction Says ALAC

17 MARCH 2006

The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) is warning that the debate over the legal purchase age for alcohol is overshadowing all the other things that need to be done to reduce alcohol-related harm in New Zealand.

“We need to be very careful about looking at this bill as the cure-all for youth drinking in New Zealand. By focusing solely on the age issue, we are in danger of forgetting all the other things that need to be done to support such a move,” says ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy.

“I would also suggest that instead of just focusing on the young people we should look at ourselves as adults and the drinking culture that we have allowed to develop. Binge drinking is often seen as the domain of youth.

“It’s easy to look at young people and say they are drinking problematically; they are the problem — let’s deal with it through the law. Well, actually, the problem is the drinking culture of adult New Zealanders. So if we are going to address the teenage binge drinking, we first have to change the acceptance of adult drunkenness.”

Dr MacAvoy says this type of attitudinal change can be achieved. “We just have to look at the work Land Transport New Zealand (LTNZ) has done round changing the attitudes towards wearing seat belts and drink driving.

“We need to do the same with alcohol – we need to make it socially unacceptable to be drunk – and this is what ALAC’s programme to change New Zealand’s risky drinking culture is all about.”

Dr MacAvoy says better enforcement of the laws we already have is also needed.

“However, we know young people under 18-years-old are accessing alcohol. By law, only a parent or legal guardian is allowed to supply alcohol to someone under the age of 18, not a brother, a sister, a boyfriend or anyone else.

“But 12 to 17-year-olds are getting their hands on large quantities of alcohol and they are consuming it in dangerous ways.

“And ironically, the biggest suppliers of alcohol to young people are actually parents. While parents can legally supply alcohol to their children, parents who do supply alcohol have to take seriously their responsibilities to supervise and control the amount.

“ALAC supports the increase in the minimum legal purchase age in New Zealand to 20 years as this would send a badly needed signal to New Zealand drinkers that a change in their attitudes towards selling and supplying alcohol to young people must occur.

“But we have to be clear about what would be achieved by such a move.

“Because the main source of supply for minors in New Zealand is parents, it also means raising the minimum legal purchase age in New Zealand is unlikely to have the same impact as raising the minimum drinking age did in Canada and the United States as there parents can’t supply alcohol to those under the legal drinking age. Here parents can supply those under the legal purchase age.

“As New Zealand’s binge drinking culture is deeply entrenched in all sectors of our community, ALAC would be concerned if a move to increase the minimum legal purchase age was made in isolation from a strenuous effort of behalf of the Government and its agencies to bring about a change in New Zealand’s drinking culture.”


New Zealand does not have a minimum legal drinking age. We have a minimum purchase age.

It is legal for kids to drink. Anyone in New Zealand, whatever their age, can legally drink alcohol.

This is quite different from the situation in the United States where they have a minimum legal drinking age. No one under a specified age (this varies from state to state but is generally set at 21-years-old) can legally either drink or purchase alcohol.

This approach allows law enforcement agencies to prosecute anyone who supplies a minor with alcohol and prosecute the minors for possession of alcohol (and some say make criminals of their young people).

However, what we have in New Zealand is a minimum legal age for purchasing alcohol. So it is illegal for anyone under 18 years old to purchase alcohol, and it is illegal for anyone other than a parent or guardian to supply alcohol to those under 18.

But it is not illegal for those under 18 to be in possession of alcohol or to drink it, except in public places.

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