Unchanged booze law comes under fire

By Joseph Aldridge


The decision to keep the drinking age at 18 has come under fire from community leaders.

The alcohol purchasing age was finally put in front of MPs after it was lowered in 1999 and, just after 6pm yesterday, they decided against raising it. Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, New Zealand First list MP Brendan Horan and Bay of Plenty MP Tony Ryall all voted to raise the age to 20 but were outnumbered.

The outcome has disappointed a Tauranga high school principal and doctor. Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said most MPs had voted irresponsibly.

"I'm disappointed. I think we have this poor binge-drinking culture and we keep saying about our road deaths, and I actually think it's irresponsible of our government not to raise [the alcohol purchasing age] up to 20," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Mr Randell said research showed that people two years younger than the legal age regularly bought alcohol.

"I just thought this was a golden opportunity to do something about it."

Mount Medical Centre GP Tony Farrell was also disappointed but not totally surprised.

"I think it's a fairly typical response from a government that doesn't understand how evidence works and how these things are really important.

"The alcohol lobby has obviously done a very good job."

But 19-year-old Lexy Brown said she was "really happy" with the result. "I agree that New Zealand does have a binge-drinking culture and that problem needs to be addressed. Changing the law doesn't change the culture."

Karleigh-Jayne Jones, another 19-year-old, agreed, saying the culture was at fault rather than drinking itself.

Rather than raising the purchasing age, MP's would be better off putting "controls on alcohol advertising, like they have for cigarettes, getting rid of the drinks that taste like lollies and have better education on the effects of alcohol".

Syndicate bar owner Riki Walls said raising the age would have "driven the youth that are now the drinking age generation out of the pubs and into the cars and beaches again".

In Parliament yesterday, MPs voted whether to raise the current alcohol purchasing age from 18 to 20, keep it as is, or split the ages between on and off licensed premises at an extended sitting at Parliament. Mr Bridges voted for the age to be raised to 20 "across the board".

"I believe that that's what people across the country overwhelmingly want and I think that expert evidence backs raising it to 20 as well. Eighteen won the day - but that's democracy ..."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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