Alcohol debate: The teen wasteland

By Chris Thompson

A youth collapses on Queen St in the early hours of the morning. Photo /  Geoff Dale
A youth collapses on Queen St in the early hours of the morning. Photo / Geoff Dale

Eighteen-year-olds can still buy liquor after a landmark vote in Parliament this week. Chris Thompson hit the streets of our biggest city to see how young people were taking the news.

If the teenager hunched over on one of Auckland's main streets early yesterday morning has a view on being given a drinking reprieve by the country's MPs, he is not capable of giving it. He is too busy throwing up.

And even if he had been capable, it's unlikely we could have got near him, as his friend starts moving towards us along Customs St, yelling obscenities.

Just around the corner, a young woman is too busy to be interviewed, throwing aimless drunken punches at a male adversary.

On Queen St though, several 18 and 19-year-olds are happy to share their joy at MPs deciding on Thursday not to raise the purchasing age for alcohol back to 20.

"Hell yeah!" and "F***ing aye!" are the most common responses from one group of delighted 18-year-olds.

Holly Lawson, 18, reckons "the younger you are, the more you should drink".

Bradley Hyde, also 18, says even if the drinking age had been raised to 20, he could still have got hold of alcohol.

"We should lower [the drinking age]" he says. "When I was 16, everyone was buying me alcohol. Every single 16-year-old is getting alcohol anyway."

Ann-Maree Beadle, 18, says she agrees the drinking age should stay at 18 because there will be more house parties if it is raised. She says she got around the drinking age when she was younger by using fake IDs.

There are mixed reactions in the slightly older age group. Porcia Tatana, 20, thinks "if you're old enough to go to war and to vote, you should be old enough to drink", an opinion echoed by David Herbert, 25.

But self-interest in the age debate is past for Jamie Baker, 23. "I don't mind raising the age. I think it will stop the problems. Raising the age will make it harder for young people to access alcohol."

Ashleigh Lesley, 21, sees drunk people regularly in her job and thinks the drinking age should have been raised to 20.

"I work at a nightclub and there are some people who cannot hold their liquor. There are people who should be drinking and people who shouldn't."

But it's sobering times for the promoters of change. National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman says politicians have missed the best chance to give the public what they wanted.

"Reducing the purchase age was the only actual 'reform' in the Alcohol Reform Bill," he says. "All the rest is just tinkering. All the things that could have made a difference - raising the minimum price; reducing accessibility to alcohol by limiting hours and numbers of outlets; tackling the marketing and advertising; and lowering the drink drive levels - all these things have been carefully set aside."

Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the architect of many of the recommended law changes, won't even comment on the outcome in Parliament. The Law Commission considered 2939 written submissions and held 50 meetings in drafting its plans.

All of that's far above the head of 19-year-old Joe Wade, who is propped up against a carpark entrance on the corner of Wyndham and Albert Sts.

He sits next to a puddle of his own vomit, which is trickling down towards the road. He perks up when he receives a phone call from a friend.

And he's now alert enough to answer the question. Is he old enough to be drinking? "You've got to have mates with you," he mumbles as he stumbles off into the night.

- Additional reporting Edward Rooney

WE SAY

Try this special Herald on Sunday pop quiz:

It's legally available to most of the population.

It puts hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Kiwis in hospital each year.

It causes many deaths, and creates a huge financial drain on the health system.

What are we talking about - tobacco or alcohol?

If you said both, you'd be right.

Not that you'd know it from the actions of our parliamentarians in recent weeks.

The price of tobacco is going through the roof; cigarettes are now locked away from public view in supermarkets and other outlets; and plain packaging is on the horizon.

Contrast it to what is happening on the alcohol front.

The drinking age stays at 18; there is no minimum pricing; there is no movement on the drink-driving limit; the liquor industry is given the right to decide its own alcohol limits in ready-to-drink mixes (RTDs).

Tobacco, apparently, is the evil empire.

The alcohol industry, meanwhile, has too much clout to be reined in.

It's enough to make the fair-minded spew, just like the kids on Queen St were doing early yesterday morning.

Tell us what you think, email letters@hos.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 26 Oct 2014 04:35:29 Processing Time: 518ms