A bill raising the drinking age back to 20 has been given the go ahead by a committee of MPs, and the issue will now be decided by a conscience vote in Parliament.
The cross-party law and order select committee released its report on the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill today and recommended that it proceed with only minor changes.
Parliament voted by a narrow majority in 1999 to lower the drinking age from 20 to 18.
The bill to raise it again, drafted by former Progressive Party MP Matt Robson, passed its first reading 78-41 - but a significant number of MPs said they would wait to hear the evidence presented to the committee before making up their minds on whether it should become law.
A survey released today by Massey University showed 74 per cent of about 750 people questioned supported raising the drinking age.
The Drug Foundation has said its own surveys showed about 70 per cent in favour.
The committee said in its report that it considered 180 submissions, conducted hearings in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, and received advice from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health.
"The law and order committee examined the bill and recommends that it be passed with the amendments shown," the report said.
Those amendments relate only to the way clauses covering liquor advertising have been drafted.
The committee had not been expected to deliver a verdict on the drinking age.
Recommending that the bill be passed puts it back into the debating chamber for a second reading, when there will be a conscience vote - not split on the usual party lines.
After that it has to go through its committee and third reading stages before becoming law, but the second reading vote will be a good indication of the way MPs feel about it.
The committee has split the bill into two, one dealing with just the drinking age and the other its provisions around liquor advertising.
The proposed changes to advertising include restrictions on TV commercials.
One proposed measure is to ban alcohol ads on TV before 10pm. The current regime allows such ads after 8.30pm.