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Alcohol Reform Bill

25 AUGUST 2011

The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) has welcomed the report back of the Government's Alcohol Reform Bill.

The Bill, which was reported back to Parliament today from the Justice and Electoral select committee, follows the Law Commission's extensive review of New Zealand's liquor laws and a lengthy select committee process in which the committee sat for over 90 hours and dealt with many thousands of submissions.

ALAC Chief Executive Officer Gerard Vaughan said the new initiatives strengthened the bill in some areas. He welcomed the new clauses requiring supermarkets and grocery stores to display alcohol and associated advertising in a single non-prominent area.

"Currently alcohol is being sold as if it's a convenience item, next to milk and other household products; it's often positioned near the entrance, the checkouts, beside commonly purchased household goods, or in other areas where shoppers must walk," he said. "It is being treated as an ordinary commodity, despite what we know about the harms it can cause."

Mr Vaughan welcomed the moves to collect New Zealand sales data from alcohol retailers.

"We have a problem in New Zealand with the sale of really cheap alcohol," he said. "Cheaper alcohol tends to be bought more by harmful drinkers than moderate drinkers and studies show that it is also attractive to young people.

"The use of price to reduce alcohol-related harm is one of the most evidence-based and internationally well-accepted strategies. Raising alcohol prices generally reduces consumption and consequently harm, especially in some 'at risk' population groups."

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Mr Vaughan said the sales data could be used to analyse what would be the best mechanism to target that very cheap alcohol, for example through a minimum price mechanism.

Mr Vaughan said the provisions strengthening the existing offence of promotion of excessive consumption of alcohol by making it apply to any business selling or promoting alcohol, and prohibiting a wider range of promotions, such as advertising free alcohol, were welcomed.

"What is also particularly welcome is Minister Simon Power's announcement that the Government recognised that people wanted more action on alcohol advertising and his setting up of an expert panel to look at current research and international developments around alcohol advertising," Mr Vaughan said.

Since the last review of alcohol advertising in 2007, further substantial research had been done that supported ALAC's advice on the need to restrict alcohol exposure particularly to children and young people.

"A 2009 review of the impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on future adolescent alcohol use found exposure to media and commercial communications on alcohol was associated with the likelihood that adolescents will start to drink alcohol, and with increased drinking among those who already drink.

"This provides strong evidence to argue that young people should not be exposed to alcohol advertising, sales promotions and sponsorship.

"Measures to restrict exposure would contribute greatly to reducing the age of onset of drinking for many young people and, as we know, the earlier young people start drinking the greater risk of harm later in life."

Mr Vaughan welcomed the announcement of an extra $10 million a year for treatment.

"New Zealand has a very high level of acute alcohol-related harm compared to other countries. Acute alcohol-related harm is typically caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol on one occasion or 'binge drinking'. New Zealand alcohol use surveys consistently find that approximately 25 percent of New Zealanders aged 16-64 years who drink, consume large amounts of alcohol on a typical drinking occasion.

"There is substantial overseas evidence, and a growing New Zealand evidence base, to show that treatment options such as alcohol screening and brief intervention are effective in a range of settings".

ALAC supported the measures in the Bill giving communities the ability to control how alcohol is managed in their neighbourhood: the strengthening of the rules over provision of alcohol to minors; the restrictions on access and availability of alcohol through cutting back on opening hours and types of stores that can hold a licence; and the strengthening of the existing offence of promotion of excessive consumption of alcohol.

"The proliferation of alcohol outlets, the trend towards 24 hour licensing and the increased affordability of alcohol have increased the overall availability and accessibility of alcohol and is contributing to increasing alcohol-related harm including night-time disorder, crime and violence," Mr Vaughan said.

Licences are too easy to get, as the grounds for objecting to applications are too narrow. Communities are finding they have little or no say in the process for granting or declining liquor licences. Alcohol outlets concentrated in particular areas and longer opening hours lead to increased risk of alcohol-related harm."

The provision for local alcohol plans would give communities a say in the location, opening hours, operating conditions and density of liquor outlets in their neighbourhoods.

"We will work with Local Government NZ on the implementation of the local alcohol plans."

Mr Vaughan said ALAC had advised a purchase age of 20 and was aware that this aspect of the decision making on the Bill was likely to be a conscience vote.

Mr Vaughan said overall the Bill was an important move to getting some of the laws right around the sale and supply of alcohol and that the announcement today also signalled further work, particularly in the areas of price and marketing.


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