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Alcohol Plans Like Treating Cancer With Aspirin

Government Alcohol Plans Are Like Treating Cancer With A Couple Of Aspirin

The Government plans for alcohol reform revealed in today's Sunday Star-Times are weak and deeply disappointing say Alcohol Action's three medical spokespeople.

Professor Doug Sellman, who is Director of the National Addiction Centre, said that when New Zealand is facing a nationwide alcohol crisis the Government's decisions are "like treating cancer with a couple of aspirin”.

He said it is clear the Government had done a lot of work in response to the Law Commission's major review of alcohol, "but in the end, just like the recent 0.08 blood alcohol decision, they have avoided all the big policy decisions that would seriously help reduce New Zealand's heavy drinking problem". "We expect widespread disappointment and anger when the public sees how little is really being proposed”, he said.

“As long as the Government continues to allow legal drunk driving, broadcast advertising and sponsorship of sport and cultural events, widespread normalisation and access through supermarket sales and extremely cheap alcohol for sale, New Zealanders will continue suffering greatly from the miseries of a heavy drinking culture”. The decisions revealed by the Sunday Star Times are:

- Raising the buying age in off-licenses from 18 to 20 but leave it at 18 in pubs and bars;

- Restricting the alcohol content of RTDs to 1.5 standard drinks;

- Tightening alcohol promotion at off licenses;

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- Greater powers for the police to deal with drunk and disorderly behaviour;

- Greater powers for communities over liquor licensing;

- Restricting trading hours for off-licenses to 7am – 11pm and on-licenses 8am – 4am;

- Make licenses harder to get and easier to lose;

- Dairies and grocery stores less likely to be granted licenses or a renewal of licenses; and

- Strengthening the penalties for supplying liquor to minors.

“This list might look like a sensible positive set of measures” said University of Otago’s Professor Jennie Connor, “but a small positive step is not what is needed. We need a package of the most effective measures now, in order to make the urgent changes required”.

“This is certainly not what Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s team called for after carefully considering the extent of the problems and the range of potential solutions”.

“Half-hearted change to the age of purchase, restriction in trading hours that even HANZ says won’t make much difference, and giving communities better control over liquor licenses they should have had all along is a minimalist and timid response” said Dr Geoffrey Robinson, Alcohol Action NZ’s third medical spokesperson.

“The policies fail to do anything significant about the fundamental problem identified by Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s team, described as ‘the unbridled commercialisation of alcohol’”. The four most potent measures for bringing about a significant change to New Zealand’s damaging heavy drinking culture based on international evidence are: Lowering the adult level for drinking and driving to 0.05; Putting major restrictions on alcohol marketing, advertising and sponsorship; Removing alcohol from supermarkets; Putting an end to extremely low alcohol prices.

Alcohol Action NZ says the Government appears not to understand that New Zealand's heavy drinking culture is primarily an adult rather than a youth issue. Internationally recognized research has found that 92% of New Zealand's heavy drinkers are 20 years and over, and 70% are 25 years and over.

”The Government is wrong to see alcohol abuse as essentially a youth problem", Professor Sellman said. "Aiming measures primarily at youth while avoiding anything substantial that would reduce heavy drinking amongst adults is scapegoating young people for the country’s heavy drinking culture and fails to address the main issue".

We can only hope the information leaked to the Sunday Star Times is only part of the story and that the Government surprises us tomorrow with some serious interventions that will give real hope to New Zealanders - the equivalent of surgery, chemotherapy, and a good dose of morphine pain relief for treating cancer, instead of just a few aspirin and a pat on the head.


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