Alcohol damage a national crisis, group tells PM

By Elizabeth Binning

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Prime Minister has been asked to take a fresh look at alcohol and lead a change in the nation's heavy drinking culture following this month's highly publicised King's College ball.

Alcohol Action NZ has written to John Key asking him to strengthen the Alcohol Reform Bill so alcohol-related harm can be avoided.

"There are currently 20 ongoing alcohol-related deaths every week and 200 alcohol-related physical and sexual assaults every day in New Zealand," said Professor Doug Sellman, director of the National Addiction Centre and a member of Alcohol Action.

"But because this situation has existed a long time, the damage is largely accepted as part of the Kiwi way of life, rather than seen for what it actually is, a national crisis."

Professor Sellman said it was only when high-profile deaths such as that of King's boy David Gaynor occurred that the crisis was acknowledged. It was time for the Government to act.

"We are aware that alcohol-related deaths often involve a number of interacting factors but if heavy drinking was removed, death would usually have been significantly less likely."

Professor Sellman said virtually all of the major Law Commission recommendations that could make a significant difference to changing the high levels of harmful drinking were ignored following a review of liquor laws last year.

The current Alcohol Reform Bill also amounted to "little more than tinkering with the problem" so Alcohol Action is calling for five changes to be made, starting with a minimum price per standard drink to end the sale of ultra-cheap drinks.

The group also wants the drink- driving limit reduced, alcohol advertising and sponsorship dismantled, supermarkets to be made alcohol-free and the purchase age to be raised back to 20.

"While there is a disproportionate amount of alcohol harm from young people, less than 10 per cent of the heavy drinkers in New Zealand are under the age of 20 years, which is why focusing on youth won't work."

"The worthwhile initiatives that are included [in the current bill] will only go a very small way towards doing something about New Zealand's heavy drinking culture, without the support of serious environmental changes."

Professor Sellman said the bill suggested the Government was "just not serious about leading a change in the heavy drinking culture".


What the group wants:

1. A minimum price per standard drink to end ultra-cheap drinks.
2. Reducing adult drink-driving limit from .08 to .05.
3. Begin the dismantling of alcohol advertising and sponsorship over a five-year period.
4. Restore supermarkets to being alcohol-free.
5. Raise the buying age to 20 years.

- NZ Herald

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