Health officials are putting schools on notice to ease up on the booze at fundraisers in a bid to reduce alcohol-related harm in the community.
The Hawke's Bay District Health Board yesterday endorsed a report intended to be sent to all schools outlining the harms caused by exposing children to alcohol at such events, and offering guidelines on how schools could develop their own alcohol policies.
Report author and population health adviser Rowan Manhire-Heath said the DHB was concerned at the pervasiveness of alcohol promotion and had the view that when alcohol was consumed in a school setting it reinforced the inaccurate perception that it was a safe product.
"A high level of hazardous drinking exists within a region known nationally and globally for its strong and successful wine industry ... as such the promotion of the benefits of alcohol production and consumption are likely conveying the message to the population of Hawke's Bay that drinking alcohol is a normal and socially accepted activity that has positive and wide-reaching consequences," Manhire-Heath said.
This was despite data from 2015 showing more than half of males aged 15-24 in the region were drinking hazardously, and one in three females - a rate significantly higher than the national average for the same age group (one in four).
Supermarkets, sport and online advertising exposed young people to alcohol marketing but ethical questions came into play when schools sold alcohol for fundraising, the report said.
"The ethics of children being used to promote an event because alcohol will be available to consume or as a product in its own right, acting as an intermediary for the industry whether it is for charitable purposes or not, is highly questionable.
"It is the Hawke's Bay DHB's view that schools currently fundraising by selling alcohol, both on school grounds and through corporate fundraising schemes, would be better to seek alternative methods of revenue gathering."
Between 2014 and 2017, 139 special licence applications were made for events on school grounds or attached to school fundraising, mostly from primary schools (39 per cent) followed by secondary schools (29 per cent), and were mostly from high-decile schools.
The events mostly likely to be attended by minors were quiz, casino, bingo or movie nights or auctions.
It was noted in the report that was written in March this year that four special licence applications had been opposed by the Medical Officer of Health.
"All events were family-focused, held on school grounds and children were in attendance. Of these oppositions, three related to the same school hosting the same event over three consecutive years."
In future such opposition would increase substantially.
"Positively, it appears only a small number of schools continue to hold these events, and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board are optimistic that a vision of no licences coming from schools or educational settings can be achieved," the report said.
To assist in that aim, the board would be asked to endorse the report, after which schools would be encouraged to develop alcohol policies, and get creative with other ways to fundraise.
Hawke's Bay Secondary Principals' Association chairman and Taradale High School principal Stephen Hensman said it was not uncommon for secondary schools to boost their fundraising events by offering alcohol for sale to adults, even when school-aged children were present.
While the DHB's plan to start opposing more special liquor licence applications could affect the profit at such events, or even make the events no longer profitable to run, he said principals and boards were mindful of the negative effects of alcohol on communities and young people.
"We do want to come to a better understanding of the DHB's thinking that has brought them to hold this position ... we will be reading their material and watching this development with interest."