Men over 50 - not young people - are the biggest drinkers in New Zealand, researchers have found.

But experts say that although the male 50-plus age group may be consuming more alcohol, it's the younger generations who are drinking it more dangerously.

Of the 113,345,000 glasses of alcohol consumed in New Zealand between February last year and January this year, 28 per cent were drunk by men older than 50, said research released by the Roy Morgan market research company yesterday.

The group which accounted for the smallest section of the alcohol market was women aged between 25 and 34 (8.3 per cent).


And men between 18 and 24 drank only 8.3 per cent of all the alcohol drunk in New Zealand last year, despite being recognised by the Ministry of Health as one of the groups most likely to engage in dangerous drinking behaviour.

Researchers asked almost 11,500 New Zealanders over 18 how many glasses and what types of alcohol they'd drunk in the past four weeks.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said it was likely that men over 50 were found to be the biggest drinkers because they were the largest age group in the survey.

"Males definitely are up there with their drinking, but among that age group there's probably a bigger proportion of people having two or three drinks which would also help account for the significant volume," Ms Williams said.

People over 50, including women, were often used to having a drink or two when they got home or with dinner. These tended to be beer or wine.

But younger people tended not to drink during the week and "saved it up" for the weekend when they would go out and binge, Ms Williams said.

That was why anti-alcohol harm campaigns were aimed at them.

"Young men are dying at far higher rates from alcohol-related causes."


And what young people were drinking was often much more dangerous as well, she said.

"RTDs are aimed at young people and they're sort of a gateway to get young people drinking spirits. So when they make drinks, they make them much stronger ... that's a concern."

The Health Promotion Agency's general manager of research, policy and advice, Dr Andrew Hearn, said the research was about alcohol market segmentation, and not about the amount and frequency of drinking or about alcohol issues arising from drinking.

Dr Hearn also reiterated Ms William's point that the 50-plus male group was one of the largest segments of the total population.

Men aged between 50 and 89 make up 14 per cent of the population, according to Statistics New Zealand.

He said most men in that group (66 per cent) preferred beer, which varied in the amount of alcohol it contained.


"The survey also does not show that 50-plus year old males are the biggest drinkers or suffering the most harm," Dr Hearn said.

"Alcohol issues exist in all population groups."

He cited the Ministry of Health 2007/08 survey which found that 18-to-24-year-old males consumed large amounts of alcohol at least weekly and were more likely to have a potentially hazardous drinking pattern than any other age group.


A minimum price policy for alcohol may have been sunk even before the Government finishes research on whether it works.

The Ministry of Justice is investigating minimum pricing, but Prime Minister John Key and Justice Minister Judith Collins have both said they are not convinced the system would be effective.


This has angered alcohol watchdogs and public health officials, who said the Government was ignoring a wealth of evidence which showed price hikes curtailed harmful drinking.

Labour MP Charles Chauvel and Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell have drafted amendments to alcohol reform legislation, proposing a "floor price" for alcohol which would raise retail prices while reducing binge drinking.

The Act Party called for minimum pricing to be scrapped, which left United Future's Peter Dunne holding the balance of power.

Mr Dunne tweeted yesterday: "If Labour's minimum alcohol price amendment depends on my vote, it is doomed."

The Opposition wants the Government to change the legislation to allow for the introduction of new alcohol pricing when the ministry reports back in September.

Mrs Collins said: "I don't think most New Zealanders should have to pay more for their beer and wine because of other people's over-consumption.


"Price is certainly a determinant but you need to realise there's lot of different sources for alcohol.

"If you push people away from wine you might be forcing them into spirits," she said.

A major study on alcohol policy in the high-profile medical journal the Lancet said: "Price increases and a set minimum price are both estimated to have a much greater effect on heavier than on lighter drinkers, with modest or only small extra financial cost to lighter drinkers."

- Isaac Davison

Gary McComick enjoys more than the odd tipple

As an enjoyer of more than the odd tipple and at 60-years-old, entertainer Gary McCormick admits he probably enjoyed more than his fair share of the alcohol consumed last year.


The radio host and writer says he has at least one bottle of wine a day which he starts from 11am.

"I do enjoy a drink every day, more than that in fact, which is probably more than the strict guidelines that well-meaning people lay down," he said.

McCormick more than falls into the group of men aged 50 and over who collectively drank 28 per cent of all the glasses of alcohol consumed in New Zealand last year.

But while he freely admits he drinks more than what's recommended, the bottle of wine is drunk over a day, he knows his limits and has the same amount seven days a week no matter if it's the weekend or not.

"Consistency is a great thing - the same thing each and every day."

McCormick's tipple of choice is wine, though it hasn't always been. When he first started getting into drinking in his early twenties, he was a big beer fan.


"It was probably whiskey and Steinlager and often the two together which was called a 'boiler maker' ... it was powerful but inspired thoughtful thinking. A lot of writing was done on boiler makers. We used to sit around scribbling poems and writing things to myself."

It wasn't until he started touring around wineries with performing local bands that he discovered the wonder of the grape.

And now he has even married into winery - his wife is the daughter of wine-maker Peter Cottier who owns Cottier Estate in the Wairapapa.

- Amelia Wade