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Evidence and public support raising purchasing age

26 October 2006

"There are only two things worse than commentators who say that raising the drinking age alone won't change our drinking culture, and they are those who say there is no evidence that lifting the age reduces alcohol associated harm, or that the public will not accept going back to a purchasing age of 20," Jim Anderton Progressive Leader said today.

"A letter sent to all Members of Parliament by the Injury Prevention Unit researchers Professor John Langley and Dr Kyp Kypri outlines the evidence that refutes those assumptions and I urge all parliamentarians to read it before voting on the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction: Purchase Age) Amendment Bill tonight," Jim Anderton said.

"In surveys taken on this issue over 70 percent of the public have consistently voted to increase the purchase age, so the argument that it is "too late to put the genie back in the bottle" just won't wash either

"Parliament has the opportunity tonight to fix the mistake it made in 1999 by voting for the bill introduced to Parliament last year by my Progressive Party colleague Matt Robson and anyone who reads the evidence and listens to the voice of the people will know which way to vote." Jim Anderton said

Summary of attached letter and evidence

In the 1970s Australia, Canada and the USA reduced the purchase drinking age and all experienced increases in alcohol related harm as a result. This led to the USA raising the age back to 21 years in the 1980s. Subsequent research showed average decreases in alcohol-related car crash outcomes of 12-16% in 18-20year olds after the age was raised again.

Research on the New Zealand situation conducted by different researchers using different methods have found that since the 1999 lowering of the purchase age for alcohol produced a relative increase in traffic crash injuries involving 18-19 year old and 15-17 year old drivers.


Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm
Reduction: Purchase Age) Amendment Bill

You will be aware that the Law and Order Select Committee's recommendations to parliament on the above.

The Injury Prevention Research Unit's interest in this arises from the fact that hazardous alcohol consumption is the leading modifiable cause of injury, which accounts for 78% of all deaths among 15-19 year-olds in New Zealand. Our child and youth injury record is among the worst among developed countries.

Over recent months we have noted several MPs and commentators claiming that there is no evidence to show that the reduction in the purchase age was associated with increased harm. That is simply not the case.

Attached is a paper published earlier this year in the American Journal of Public Health, a prestigious scientific journal. The results show that the lowering of the minimum purchase age in 1999 produced a relative increase in traffic crash injuries involving 18-19 year-old and 15-17 year-old drivers. The findings are consistent with those of three other New Zealand studies conducted by different groups of researchers, using different methods. The New Zealand experience is consistent with that observed in Australia, Canada, and the USA, where purchase/drinking ages were reduced in the 1970s; all experienced increases in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity as a result of those law changes.

Opponents of raising the purchase age argue that there is no evidence that this will result in reduced harm. Once again, this is not the case.

In the USA, laws were introduced through the 1980s, such that the purchase/drinking age (the specifics of which vary by state) became 21 in all 50 states by 1988. A systematic review of the effects of those law changes showed average decreases in alcohol-related crash outcomes of 12-16% in 18-20 year-olds. In terms of policy outcomes, this is a large effect in a population group at peak risk of injury mortality. By comparison, the effect of graduated driver licensing, pioneered in New Zealand in 1987, was an 8% reduction in crash injuries. Programs of this type were subsequently introduced in most developed countries.

You will be aware of the often expressed view that increasing the purchase age will not solve the problem of youth hazardous drinking. The fact is that no single strategy can deliver this. This bill presents New Zealand with an opportunity to introduce an evidence-based measure as the foundation of a broader strategy to reduce youth hazardous drinking.

Many argue that we need to change the culture of drinking; we agree, but in doing so we need to choose strategies which are known or have a high probability of being effective. The laws of our land are part of our culture and have an important role to play in producing positive public health outcomes (e.g., firearm control, compulsory breath testing). We urge you to make a decision which is based on research evidence.

Yours sincerely,

Professor John Langley Dr Kyp Kypri
Director Senior Research Fellow


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