Our taxes may have been given a reshuffling in National's recent Budget, but all was quiet on the excise front with regards to alcohol, despite the recommendation in a recent Law Commission report that tax on it be increased by 50 per cent. I am not convinced that taxing all drinkers is the way to address the destructive element of our drinking culture. It's evident New Zealand has a drinking problem, but how to cure it is less clear.

Tax increases, which would put the price of drinks up by an average of 10 per cent, was one of the key measures put forward by the Law Commission's proposal for alcohol reform, which it claimed would "target low-cost alcohol which is known to drive most acute harm".

Bargain basement booze is bad news for both consumers and the drinks industry. It's an area that Britain is trying to curb through proposing minimum pricing below which alcohol cannot be sold by retailers. This would stop stores using alcohol as a loss leader and hit low-price, high-alcohol products in particular.

But taxation does nothing to address the underlying reasons people abuse alcohol. For that we need to look at our drinking culture and the society that supports it. It's not the drink itself, it's our attitude towards drinking.

"Alcohol-related problems are associated with specific cultural factors, relating to beliefs, attitudes, norms and expectancies about drinking," says a report on the Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking, from Britain's Social Issues Research Centre.

It highlights that some societies, such as those of many Mediterranean countries, hold "generally positive beliefs and expectancies about alcohol and experience significantly fewer alcohol-related problems". It's in countries like ours which hold "negative or inconsistent beliefs and expectancies" about alcohol where it becomes a big issue.

"Engineering a shift in beliefs might ... be one of the most effective strategic approaches to reducing alcohol-related problems," the report suggests.

Though the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption need to be communicated, especially to the young, New Zealand is a prime example of how attempts to demonise drink don't work. It's a controversial approach, but perhaps it's time to get positive. One British school now offers wine appreciation classes as part of teaching pupils to drink responsibly. It makes sense that encouraging kids to understand and respect the product makes them more likely to enjoy it in moderation rather than view it as a drug.

It also needs to be combined with the engendering of self-respect and personal responsibility in the population. Excessive drinking suggests something is wrong. But it's not with alcohol; it's with the culture - something that cannot simply be taxed away.



Mount Riley Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009 $17.95
Bright notes of apple and pear mingle with floral nuances and undertones of cinnamon and nutmeg. (From Liquorland, The Fine Wine Delivery Company, Herne Bay Cellars, Mt Eden Wines & Spirits and La Vino)

McNaught & Walker Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Mouthfilling and fresh, combining intense flavours of savoury dried herbs, gooseberry and slaty mineral. (From www.mcnaughtwalker.com)

Mills Reef Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Malbec 2008
Rich berry fruit fuses with dark chocolate, roasted spices and food-friendly tannins. (From First Glass, Glengarry, Point Wines, Fine Wine Delivery, Mairangi Bay Fine Wines, The Wine Vault, some Liquorlands)