The price of your summer tipple would be hiked along with the drinking age under changes wanted by DHBs struggling with booze-related carnage and disease.

There are 47,000 people who drink hazardously within Auckland DHB's boundary, with more than one in four men in that category.

The DHB has now joined other health boards including Counties Manukau in endorsing a position statement on alcohol harm. It calls for price hikes, restrictions on advertising and sponsorship, and an increase in the purchasing age.

"Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity. It is an intoxicant, toxin, and addictive psychotropic drug," the DHB concludes. "Alcohol has been normalised and largely accepted by society, and causes more harm than any other drug in society.


"Harm from alcohol is not limited to those with alcohol addiction and dependence, but affects even those that drink low to moderate amounts."

The stance adds to growing calls by DHBs to address the environment people live in, in order to improve their health. Wellington region DHBs recently called for a tax on sugary drinks.

Auckland DHB cited research showing consuming between 10 to 20 standard drinks a week slashes life expectancy by an estimated six months.

Drinking is linked to liver cirrhosis, cancers and stroke. At least 75 per cent of assaults between 9pm and 6am are estimated to be alcohol-related.

"In addition to the impact on health services in the community, treating alcohol-related harm in our hospitals requires significant staff time and resources, including security. Our ED staff often face physical abuse from intoxicated patients and visitors," a DHB spokeswoman told the Herald on Sunday.

"Other patients are impacted, as treatment of patients in less serious conditions is deprioritised so staff can attend to patients with life-threatening injuries from alcohol-related incidents, such as assaults."

In the area covered by Auckland DHB, it's estimated 18 per cent of people aged 15 and over (about 47,000 residents) have hazardous alcohol use - drinking that risks their physical or mental health, or having harmful social effects on them or others.

The problem is worse for men (26 per cent, compared with 12 per cent of women), and Māori (38 per cent). Nationally, one in five adults are hazardous drinkers.


Fifteen DHBs now have their own varying position statements on alcohol harm. Auckland DHB supports a "broad and comprehensive" package of strategies on alcohol including restricting availability, increasing the price and legal purchase age and reducing alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

The statement doesn't suggest by how much prices should go up.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Dr Nicki Jackson said the mental health inquiry report released late last year called for strong action to curb alcohol abuse, but there were no signals that would happen.

"In the last year alone Scotland, Ireland and even the Northern Territory started to put in some policies to address cheap alcohol. And we lag way behind now," Jackson said.

"It is now more affordable to buy alcohol than it ever has been. That has really been driven by a huge reduction in the price of wine. This time last year you could buy a bottle of wine for $5.99 in the supermarket."

However, New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said population-based measures like price increases weren't the answer.

"I think the focus needs to be far more on the people who are consuming to excess, rather than the population as a whole . . . the big picture is that consumption of alcohol in New Zealand is not rising.

"Some people have problems. But the answer to that issue is not by imposing costs on everyone else . . . what you have got from the likes of anti-alcohol groups is a formulaic response based on tobacco."

Health Minister David Clark recently labelled alcohol-related presentations at emergency departments "disturbing but unsurprising", and said addressing alcohol harm would need a "significant change in attitude across our communities".

The drinking age was lowered from 20 to 18 in 1999 after a conscience vote. In 2012 Parliament voted again, including the possibility of a split drinking and purchase age but kept both at 18.