A raise in the drinking age is a sledgehammer-like solution to a very complex problem that will be ineffective and counterproductive, and discriminate unfairly against young people.
The vast majority of 18 and 19 year olds are mature young adults who consume alcohol in a responsible way. Only a tiny minority of 18 and 19 year olds are represented in the statistics on alcohol-related harm. Preventing all 18 and 19 year olds from buying or drinking alcohol punishes the majority of people who do nothing wrong.
18 year olds can vote for who runs our country, get married, join the Police or the armed forces, stand for Parliament, and make any number of other extremely significant life decisions. It is ridiculous and offensive to say that an 18 year old cannot be trusted to purchase alcohol in the same way as any other adult. If the drinking age is raised then an 18 year old could get married - but be unable to have a glass of wine on the wedding night. That's ridiculous.
If we want to stop young people from drinking irresponsibly we could raise the drinking age to 25 or even 30. That would definitely stop people drinking. The fact that nobody is seriously proposing this speaks volumes. We recognise that 25 and 30 year olds are adults and should have the same rights as other adults; and that it is unfair and discriminatory to punish all 25 or 30 year olds for the actions of a few people within their age bracket. There is no clear difference to this logic when we are talking about people who are 18 or 19.
A "split age" - which the Government has proposed - seems like a nice compromise. But this is still a policy which unfairly discriminates against 18 year olds. And the distinction between drinking at a house party, and drinking at a bar, is completely arbitrary. Few New Zealanders will accept the assertion that 18 year olds are responsible enough to drink at their local bar, but not at home or at a friend's place. This means that few people will see any problem with supplying 18 and 19 year olds with alcohol for off-licence consumption, which makes the policy completely ineffective.
A split purchase age will actually work against engendering the culture change we need to stop adults supplying even younger teenagers with alcohol. If anything it means that purchasing alcohol for those who cannot go to the liquor store themselves becomes even more of a social norm. If we are serious about denormalising the practice of supplying liquor to those who are under 18, we should not support a policy such as a split age which breeds a lack of respect for the limits set by the law. We should maintain a clear line which says that once you are considered an adult in every other way, you can purchase alcohol like an adult. The age should be 18 whether you purchase from a supermarket or a bar.
Jenna Raeburn is the spokeswoman for Keep It 18, a group comprised of the youth wings of National, Labour, the Greens and Act. The group was set up in 2006 when a conscience vote in Parliament voted to keep the drinking age at 18 by 72 to 49. Keep It 18 members are lobbying their local MPs in the hope that there is a similar result this year.