Two men drink themselves to death

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The death of two men from excessive alcohol cosumption has seen renewed calls for mandatory labels on all alcohol.

A coroner frustrated that his recommendations are being ignored has renewed calls for mandatory labels

Hamilton coroner Peter Ryan had made the renewed call in his findings into the death of William Hono Paki, a 56-year-old who died after drinking enough alcohol to make him four times the drink driving limit.

But his plea could be falling on deaf ears because the Government says warning labels are not necessary.

Mr Paki, was at a family gathering in Pukekohe, South Auckland, in December 2011, where he drank a mixture of beer, wine and spirits.

He fell asleep in the back of his car, but early the next morning, his partner found him dead.

He was found to have 320 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

The legal limit for a driver aged 20 and over is 80mg.

Mr Ryan said it was likely Mr Paki was unaware of the inherent danger of the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol.

"It is a constant source of concern to me that a product, which can result in the death of the consumer when drunk in excess, is able to be sold without any warning to the consumer.''

Mr Ryan said he had made a recommendation on that point previously, but to no effect.

"I feel compelled to reiterate the need for such an inherently dangerous product to contain warning labels.''

He made his recommendation to the government agency responsible for controlling the sale of liquor, the Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said today she did not think the recommendation was necessary.

"Alcohol content is already clearly marked on beverage labels. Although situations like this are a tragic loss of life, 85 per cent of Kiwis consume alcohol; the vast majority do so responsibly with no residual harm.''

Mr Ryan also gave a pointed recommendation to the Health Promotion Agency, formerly Alcohol Advisory Council, to introduce or support an education campaign alerting the public to the risk of death associated with excessive drinking.

HPA general manager policy research and advise Andrew Hearn said there were already a lot of campaigns pointing out the dangers of alcohol.

"If you like, there are a whole lot of ways of drinking yourself to death and we are in the business of trying very hard to make sure people are aware of that risk and trying to get them to change their behaviour so it doesn't happen so tragically.''

And New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said warnings would make little difference to people who were already drunk.

"They'll be too drunk to read it in all probability.''

Mr Gregan said a new website launched yesterday by the alcohol industry, cheers.org.nz, that addressed ways of drinking sensibly.

But Alcohol Healthwatch said the industry had got away with not informing its consumers of the risks associated with their products for too long.

Director Rebecca Williams said labels could be effective in raising awareness of the risks of consuming alcohol.

"They will be more effective when used in conjunction with measures such as increasing price and restricting the marketing and availability of alcohol in an integrated alcohol harm prevention strategy.''

Ms Williams said it was "astonishing'' that a product that caused the premature death of 1000 New Zealanders each year was not required to advise consumers of the risks.

Second death

The second report from a coroner today over an alcohol-related death revealed a young dad died on the pool table he was trying to win by downing a bottle of vodka.

Father of three Joshua Leigh Taunoa died after losing a series of drinking games at birthday celebrations with cousins in July.

The 26-year-old freezing worker from Manawatu had a blood alcohol level of 333 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood - more than four times the legal driving limit.

Mr Taunoa and three cousins, some of whom had come from Australia for the occasion, started drinking and playing cards about 10pm at a relative's home in Feilding.

Palmerston North Coroner Tim Scott said the group was playing drinking games, which Mr Taunoa lost many times.

They later went out to a garage where they started playing pool. Mr Taunoa wanted to buy the table but one of the family members would not sell it.

"Thereupon Josh picked up a bottle of vodka that was mostly full and stated that if he drank the whole bottle he could have the table,'' Mr Scott said.

The person who owned the table and the rest of the group "approved'' of the suggestion, he said.

However, after Mr Taunoa had consumed about half the bottle, his cousins realised it was not sensible and made up a bed for him on the pool table, turned him on his side and left him asleep.

About 6am the following morning, a family member saw him and he was obviously asleep because he was snoring.

However, just two hours later, another family member discovered him dead.

Mr Scott said at the time of his death, Mr Scott was "grossly intoxicated''.

"In simple and real terms, Josh drank himself to death. In an attempt - while probably already intoxicated - to drink a large quantity of spirits in the belief that by doing so he could acquire a pool table which he desired.''

A close family member of Mr Taunoa, who did not want to be named, said he was not a drinker and he drank on that July night only because he was celebrating with close cousins.

"He wasn't a heavy drinker at all.''

She said the whole family were in shock to find out it was his drinking that caused his death.

"Had he known that it would have caused his death he would never (have drunk so much) - he's got three little boys that he loved very much.''

The relative said Mr Taunoa had a "breathing problem'' that could have contributed to his death.

She said it was a tragic end to such a young life.

- APNZ

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