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ALAC supports raising the drinking age


Raising the drinking age

The Alcohol Advisory Council supports a return of the legal purchase age of alcohol to 20 years but says this change by itself won’t solve drinking problems for young people.

“Changing the age to 20 years is not going to solve the problems we’re seeing with people as young as 12,” says ALAC’s Chief Executive Dr Mike MacAvoy. “This issue is wider than the legislation. It’s about communities taking responsibility for giving alcohol to young people.”

Dr MacAvoy says studies have shown that delaying the age at which social drinking begins for young people means it is less likely they will get into difficulties with alcohol at a later life. He says ALAC believes a change to the law needs to be supported by a range of other measures. “There needs to be targeted and effective policing and enforcement of the law. Increasing the price of alcohol has also been shown internationally to be particularly effective in reducing the amount of alcohol young people are drinking and the harm it causes them. We have found that young people are particularly sensitive to price.”

Dr MacAvoy says the whole issue of parents and other adult friends supplying alcohol to underage people has to be addressed. “ALAC’s recent Youth Drinking Monitor shows that around half of the young people under 18 in the survey said they got alcohol from their parents and friends. About 10 percent of people under 18 said they purchased it themselves.”

He says recent events where crimes have been linked with young people being supplied alcohol by adults has led to a heightened awareness and concern around the country about who is supplying alcohol to underaged people. “We welcome people’s concern and encourage adults to think about their own behaviour in supplying alcohol to young people. Parents and friends need to think of the risks involved before they supply young people alcohol to take to unsupervised parties, for example.”

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The laws need to be enforced but they can only go so far, Dr MacAvoy says. “Ultimately the responsibility lies with each and everyone of us. Drinking is shaped by society.”

He says ALAC has initiated a successful community awareness campaign called Think Before You Buy Under 18s Drink. The first of these was run successfully in Oamaru and Ashburton last year and a similar campaign was launched this month in Taranaki. Since then other communities around New Zealand have picked up components of the campaign. “The key to the campaign is laying the groundwork by getting collective commitment from the community, as well as the length of time the campaign runs,” Dr MacAvoy says.

In May this year ALAC presented the results of a report into the health effects of the lowering of the legal purchase age . The study found there were an estimated 16 alcohol related deaths of 18 and 19 year olds in the year 2000, at a cost of $41.940 million.

There were also an estimated 145 non-fatal alcohol related outcomes from adverse health effects in the year 2000, at a cost of between about $1.604 million and $8.505 million depending on the severity of the injuries.

“The report showed us that the emotional and physical health and wellbeing of young New Zealanders aged 18 and 19 had been put at risk by the lowering of the alcohol purchase age. This has been at a high financial and social cost,” Dr MacAvoy says.

“Some of the long-term effects on young people might include ongoing costs related to teenage pregnancies, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, sexual harassment, and mental health problems,” Dr MacAvoy says.

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