The Government has revealed it is investigating a minimum price for alcohol and that research is being done on health warnings on bottles and cans.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said she had asked the Justice Ministry to research places where a minimum charge had been imposed, and whether the measure had been effective.

The Government was already considering changes to alcohol laws,and legislation which proposed a higher drinking age would return to Parliament for its final stages this month.

Mrs Collins told TVNZ's Q+A programme: "I've got the Ministry of Justice looking at a minimum price regime - where it's in place and does it make the difference that people tell me it would?"


She said the hospitality industry supported a minimum price because it would encourage people to drink at their venues instead of at home.

The Law Commission has recommended a 50 per cent excise tax on alcohol. Mrs Collins said she could not rule out a tax increase in future.

But she insisted that drinking was "not like tobacco", and that "we are not trying to actually stop all alcohol sales in this country".

National Addiction Centre head Douglas Sellman said minimum price rises had been proven to reduce heavy drinking.

He recommended a minimum price of $1 to $1.50 more per standard drink. An increase of that scale would nearly double the cost of the average 12-pack of beer.

Professor Sellman said taxes and minimum prices were a good way to directly target problem groups - youths and heavy drinkers - because it affected them most acutely.

"It's a very elegant solution, and excises bring money to the Government."

Mrs Collins also said the Ministry of Food Safety was investigating health warnings on liquor bottles, which she described as a "not unreasonable" initiative.

The Opposition has long called the Alcohol Reform Bill toothless because it did not tackle the alcohol industry head-on by addressing marketing, pricing and sponsorship.

But it was the Maori Party that proposed major amendments to the bill on the weekend, saying further changes were required to address alcohol-related harm.

The party submitted a supplementary order paper which called for elimination of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, a minimum pricing per unit of alcohol, a sinking lid for off-licences and a ban on sales from 3am to 10am.

Professor Sellman said the Maori Party's proposals were the first serious attempt to introduce hard-nosed, evidence-based measures into the bill.

But the Government would take some persuading to ban alcohol sponsorship and advertising. Mrs Collins said she felt alcohol sponsorship of clubs, sports events and rock concerts was acceptable because most of the population drank alcohol responsibly.


Maori Party proposals:

* Limit visibility of alcohol marketing in stores.
* Ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship except inside on-licence premises.
* Sinking lid policy on off-licences within territorial authorities.
* Change trading hours to 10am-10pm for off-site, 10am-3am for on-licences with a one-way door restriction policy from 1am-3am.
* Minimum price per unit of alcohol sold.
* Proximity to a school would be part of criteria for deciding on a liquor licence.