Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Plea to govt post election: crack down on alcohol

Action urged on Law Commission call for tax hike, minimum price, promotion limits.

An incoming National Government would consider a review of alcohol advertising.
An incoming National Government would consider a review of alcohol advertising.

Church and health leaders are calling on all parties in the upcoming election to raise the price of alcohol and phase out alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

A four-point "call for action on alcohol", issued today, has been signed by the heads of general and specialist groups of doctors and nurses, academic researchers and the heads of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army churches.

It calls on the incoming government after the September 20 election to implement Law Commission proposals from 2010 to raise alcohol taxes by 50 per cent, impose a minimum price for alcohol to stop price discounting, and phase out alcohol sponsorship and advertising except for "objective product information".

The 50 per cent tax hike would result in a 10 per cent increase in retail prices of alcoholic drinks. National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman, who organised the statement, said such a price increase would cut consumption by 5 per cent.

He said that would reduce liver cirrhosis, acute alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related cancers, cardiovascular disease, spouse abuse, child abuse, suicide, violent crime, fatal traffic crashes, non-fatal work accidents, teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease rates.

"There is one study I'm aware of that shows higher alcohol taxes can improve educational outcomes amongst young people," he added.

An Otago University study last year found that alcohol was responsible for 802 deaths of New Zealanders under 80 each year, or 5.4 per cent of all deaths under 80.

The biggest alcohol-related causes of death were cancer (242 deaths), road accidents (131), other accidental injuries (129), liver cirrhosis (88), suicide and other self-inflicted deaths (68) and haemorrhagic strokes (58).

These were partially offset by 341 fewer deaths from other kinds of stroke and heart disease where the evidence indicated that moderate drinking reduced risks, although heavy drinkers still suffered higher death rates even from those causes.

The Government has implemented other Law Commission proposals, including a ban on advertising alcohol price discounts above 25 per cent and more powers for local councils to restrict trading hours and liquor outlet locations.

But Justice Minister Judith Collins rejected imposing a minimum price, saying a $1.20 minimum per standard drink would simply hand liquor companies extra profits of $131 million a year.

She said yesterday that an incoming National Government would consider a review of alcohol advertising and sponsorship by a group led by former league coach Graham Lowe, due to report on October 1, and would review taxes and minimum prices after five years.

Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said Labour was "open to implementing" the Law Commission proposals that National had not acted on.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague backed a phase-out of advertising and sponsorship and said a tax increase and minimum price were both needed to reinforce each other.

"You wouldn't just do an increase in tax because companies then do loss leaders, and you wouldn't just do minimum pricing because that would increase their profits. But if you get a combination ... you can avoid the down-sides of both those measures."

NZ First justice spokesman Denis O'Rourke said his party also supported gradual tax increases and minimum prices, and "further limitations on advertising and sponsorship but not a ban".

Call for action on liquor

1. Phase out alcohol advertising.
2. Phase out alcohol sponsorship.
3. Institute a minimum unit price for alcohol.
4. Increase the tax on alcohol.

- NZ Herald

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