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Study Shows Alcohol Sold At Pocket Money Prices

Alcohol is being sold at pocket money prices, a new study of alcohol prices across 743 alcohol products sold in Auckland has found.

"The low price of alcohol is fuelling alcohol harm and undoubtedly contributes to increased lockdown drinking. Every New Zealander is paying the cost of cheap alcohol many times over with reduced safety on our roads, increased crime, family and sexual violence, and poorer physical health and mental wellbeing" says Director of Alcohol Healthwatch, Dr Nicki Jackson.

The study found:

-Cask wine was the cheapest alcohol product per standard drink (77c), followed by bottled red and white wine (86c);

-Beer and light spirits were sold for less than $1.00 per standard drink;

-The cheapest spirits and Ready to Drinks (RTDs) were sold for less than $1.20 per standard drink;

-Many of New Zealand’s most popular brands of beer, wine, RTDs and spirits were sold at $1.30 or less per standard drink;

-Supermarkets were found to offer the lowest-price alcohol products, often at considerably lower prices than that found in bottle stores. Multi-buy offers offered the lowest of all prices per standard drink for wine (81c) and beer (85c); and

-A person can purchase enough alcohol to binge drink for the price of a coffee.

"Heavy drinkers disproportionately purchase the cheapest alcohol - almost half of dependent drinkers exclusively drink wine - and they also experience the most serious harms from alcohol. Availability and promotion of cheap alcohol also maintains long-standing inequities in alcohol harm, particularly experienced by Māori and Pasifika drinkers" says Dr Jackson.

Salvation Army Assistant Territorial Secretary for Mission, Lt Colonel Lynette Hutson, says that low alcohol prices fuel the development and maintenance of addiction. "Across our treatment services, we see the harmful impact of cheap alcohol every day. It destroys individuals and families. Whilst we commend the Government for increasing funding to addiction treatment, prevention must be a priority."

Raising alcohol prices is the most tested and most effective strategy to reduce alcohol use and harm.

"New Zealand’s alcohol excise tax structure significantly under-taxes wine when compared to other beverages, resulting in it being the cheapest product. The Ministry of Justice showed that an overall 10% increase in alcohol prices will yield hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings to ACC, as well as to our justice and health services."

"We welcome the Minister of Justice’s commitment to reviewing the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act this Parliamentary term, and strongly encourage him to implement the most effective tool we have to improve equity, reduce harm and uncap our potential as a country."

"Everyone reaps the benefits from our country drinking less. We have so much to gain by implementing sensible regulation that does not allow our most harmful drug to be sold at pocket money prices. With increased drinking at home during the pandemic, measures that address the low price of off-licence alcohol are urgently required to protect everyone’s health and wellbeing" ends Dr Jackson.

Key points

Between 25 March and 5 May 2021, Alcohol Healthwatch conducted an exploratory study of alcohol prices at off-licences across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

Price data across 743 products was collected between 25 March and 5 May 2021, from online retail sources. In total, 12 bottle stores and 10 licensed supermarkets located in the most deprived areas of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland were included.

Prices were determined per standard drink. A standard drink is 10g of pure alcohol. Examples of one standard drink include 330ml of beer (4% strength), 100ml wine (12.5% strength), and 30ml spirits (42% strength).

In 1988, a 3-litre of cask wine cost $15.00. If it had increased in price in line with inflation, it should cost $30.21 in today’s value. The study found that it can be purchased at $23.00. This represents a 24% difference to the inflation-adjusted price.

Last month, research published by the Health Promotion Agency showed that alcohol was more affordable than ever before. Between 2012 and 2017, the affordability of wine increased by more than 20%.

In 2019/20, one in four New Zealand drinkers (25.7%) reported a hazardous drinking pattern. This equates to 838,000 adults aged 15 years and over.

More than one in four (27.5%) New Zealand drinkers reported consuming six or more standard drinks on one drinking occasion at least monthly. Young adult drinkers aged 18 to 24 years had a very high prevalence of monthly heavy episodic drinking (total 39%; males 45.5%, females 32.1%).

Alcohol Healthwatch recommends the implementation of evidence-based alcohol pricing policies to reduce alcohol harm. This includes an increase in the alcohol excise tax rates by at least 50% (equating to an overall 10% increase in alcohol prices) and setting a floor price or minimum price that a standard drink can be sold (known as minimum unit pricing). A 50% excise tax increase would raise the price of a bottle of wine by around $1.40, a 12-pack of beer or RTDs by around $2 to $4, and a bottle of spirits by around $12.

For more detail on the exploratory audit of alcohol prices at off-licences, go to https://www.uncapourpotential.org.nz/explore

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