Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: We're awash with alcohol

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No matter how amusing they may be, all ads for alcohol may one day be banned.
Photo / Supplied
No matter how amusing they may be, all ads for alcohol may one day be banned. Photo / Supplied

A mere two years and a bit more after the Law Commission reported on the issue, the Government has been dragged into a bar and told to pour itself something bracing. The result has been the curate's egg called the Alcohol Law Reform Bill.

As has often been pointed out, alcohol is one of the rare recreational drugs that causes people to harm others, rather than just their own stupid selves. It is a factor not just in violent crimes but in crimes against property, illness, road deaths, unplanned pregnancies, suicide and maudlin conversations.

And this country is drowning in a sea of alcohol. In the immediate vicinity of my home I can get booze from two rapacious supermarkets, four cheap liquor stores, two fancy-pants wine boutiques and a dairy with pretensions.

Towards the end of the bill's passage, non-government parties began hurling amendments at it like the contents of a teenager's stomach hitting Queen St on Sunday mornings.

That is because the Government has refused to include simple reforms that could have made a big difference.

The Government isn't up for banning alcohol advertising but it will happen one day, as surely as the age of entitlement to superannuation will go up. If advertising didn't lead to increased consumption of alcohol, they wouldn't do it. In years to come people will look back at alcohol ads as they do now with tobacco advertising and wonder how they were ever allowed to happen.

The Government's main reason for not banning the ads seems to be that so many of them are just so gosh-darn funny. Yeah, right.

The Government is concerned to protect people who use alcohol sensibly. Protect them from what? Advertising deprivation? No member of the large community of sensible drinkers will suffer if they never see another sexist beer ad.

I know the law needs to take into account that most people drink responsibly. They're not the ones I'm worried will kill me.

The Government is also insisting that communities should decide on whether or not to allow liquor outlets within their environs. We've seen what that leads to, if you live, as I apparently do, amid a population of dipsomaniacs who could drink George Best under the table. When it comes to the damage done by alcohol, the nation is the community. We are in this together and should make a joint decision.

But soon, it has been decreed, my local dairy will no longer be allowed to ply me with liquor.

I guess I'll just have to get by with the eight other outlets in the neighbourhood. Dairies don't put glossy pamphlets advertising deals on discounted alcohol in my letterbox.

By banning alcohol sales in dairies, the Government has put the boot into a small and struggling business sector, while leaving the giant supermarket chains to it.

It is said that measures used to curb tobacco-use are not suitable for alcohol because the two potentially harmful substances are very different. There's no denying that. Tobacco is a factor in very few murders and hardly any spur-of-the-moment crimes.

By the way, about that sophisticated, trouble-free European drinking culture of which you frequently hear. It turns out the French have so little to worry about when it comes to booze that from November 1 every car on the road will have to contain a working breathalyser.

France also has the .05 blood alcohol limit our Government refuses to consider, despite incontrovertible evidence that it is correlated with fewer traffic fatalities wherever it has been introduced.

- Herald on Sunday

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