The Ministry of Health is considering its own policy on youth drinking after the Australian Government hardened its stance on teenage consumption of alcohol.
The new Australian National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines stated that there was no safe level of consumption for drinkers under 18.
Sydney's Sun-Herald reported that the guidelines, due to be released on February 28, warn parents that alcohol is particularly dangerous for under-15s and they should try to delay their teenagers' drinking for as long as possible.
The ministry's chief adviser on child and youth health, Dr Pat Tuohy, told the Herald last night that the ministry was "looking with interest at this research" and "considering it alongside other international studies on the subject".
"The ministry will then decide upon what, if any appropriate action should be taken to protect the health of New Zealanders."
The Australian federal guidelines are a stricter revision of an October 2007 draft, which stated that 15- to 17-year-olds could consume some alcohol under parental supervision. They also warn that more than four drinks on a single occasion or two drinks a day sharply increase the risk of alcohol-related disease or injuries.
In New Zealand the Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) recommended that men should drink no more than six standard drinks and women no more than four standard drinks in a single session. A Ministry of Health survey in 2004 found that a quarter of all drinkers consumed more than the recommended guidelines. Nine per cent of New Zealand adults and 14 per cent of adolescents told Alac that they personally "drink to get drunk".
The four-drink stance in Australia is a softening of the rules from the October draft, which stated that more than two drinks constituted an immediate health risk. That advice was met with an uproar by alcohol experts who condemned it as too draconian. But the guideline for a one-off celebration has been added in response to public angst about youth binge-drinking and violence, and refers to risk of injury due to drunkenness as well as long-term health damage.
The document, which will be officially released - almost a year overdue - on February 26, states: "In view of growing community concern about harm arising from single occasions of drinking, particularly among young people, the NHMRC undertook to also set a guideline on reducing the risk of injury on single occasions of drinking."