The New Zealand Law Commission has issued a report called “Alcohol in Our Lives” (available here) and is seeking public comment on it, including views on possible law changes.

The Hastings and Napier Councils are awaiting the outcome of this consultation, and expected Parliamentary legislation, after which they will jointly re-write our local liquor by-laws.

Napier Councillor Maxine Boag offered these views on the subject in a recent commentary for Newstalk ZB:

“Our drinking laws and practices have come a long way from the old six o’clock swill, or even the ten o’clock closing. The liberalization of our liquor laws 20 years ago was done to promote a safe, mature European-type drinking culture. We lowered the drinking age to 18, allowed the sale of beer and wine in supermarkets, permitted Sunday trading, and allowed licensed premises to stay open all hours.

But have these changes promoted a healthy, safe drinking environment for ourselves and our children?

According to the NZ Law Commission, in their recent paper called “Alcohol in our lives”, liquor is today a serious source of social problems in New Zealand, with a huge cost to the public.

According to police, a huge proportion of their resources are being used to clean up scenes of disorder, offending, and saving intoxicated people from themselves. 31 per cent of all reported crime is committed by people who have drunk alcohol. 30 per cent of the total road toll and 30 percent of fatal crashes are alcohol related. ACC claims in which alcohol was a contributing factor cost $650 million a year.

Doctors and nurses who staff our emergency facilities see first hand the damage that is done. Figures from our own HB hospital last year say that 25 per cent of emergency admissions are alcohol related. The figure goes up to 67 per cent between midnight and 6 a.m.

The report says that alcohol is no ordinary commodity: it is a drug which, if it were to be considered for classification today, would be a Class B drug, alongside ecstasy and opium. According to the WHO, alcohol is a carcinogen, in the same hazard category as asbestos and tobacco. One thousand New Zealanders die every year from alcohol-related causes – half of them accidents and half cancers.

The damage that binge drinking is doing to our young people in particular is well-documented. Medical sources suggest that no one under the age of 15 should drink at all.

The NZ Law Commission’s report is available on their website and is very readable. They are asking for us to make submissions on any suggested law changes that we believe would improve our nation’s appalling drinking statistics.”

Maxine Boag

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  1. "… our nation’s appalling drinking statistics” would appear to be almost totally derived from surveys and anecdotal evidence, and from this a rather tenuous leap made to attribute cause.

    The survey statistics themselves, ($File/alcohol-use-in-new-zealand-2004.doc), could very well reflect changed attitudes towards drinking rather than be indicative of increased consumption, let alone 'bing drinking' – there does not appear to be available absolute quantities of alcohol sold juxtaposed with reputed consumption. This would proffer some validity to the consumption figures presented as most alcohol purchased is reputedly consumed within 24 hours of purchase. An increase of 2 litres per annum may well be a 21% increase in consumption (1995-2000) but it is not a great deal – two and a half bottles of wine over a year. It may also reflect a change in the definition of a standard drink, from 15 gm absolute alcohol to 10 (2004).

    I would have thought the postulated relationships with disease entities are simply that, 'postulated.'

    Alcohol is an hypnosedative that has both predicable (tiredness, slowness of response) and unpredictable effects (disinhibition or reduced impulse control). Alcohol being associated with an event does not make it causative of that event. Intent is more often than not pre existing, and alcohol or other consumption occurs to expedite that event e.g. burglaries, violence, suicide, etc.

    I guess with no or minimal corresponding reduction in cancers resulting from the anti tobacco lobby it is easy to attribute their occurrence to anything else that can be seen as a 'commodity of potential abuse.' 'Have you had more than six standard drinks at one sitting? Has this happened more than x times? Have you ever been unable to recall everything that occurred the day after?' Poorly quantified correlation studies can be overly inclusive and quite specious.

    The charge of Sir Geoffrey and cohorts I see as quite populist and simplistic … the impact of unemployment, DPB., pretended high numbers in tertiary education and other 'hidden' means of taking structure or routine and meaning and value out of peoples lives is more the essence of this issue than what is being addressed.

    This is simply 'well-intentioned' wowserism, fortified by applying different criteria as to what constitutes 'excess.'

  2. The answer, and it is one no government wants to hear, is that as individuals become more self determined and independent they are less likely to binge drink or use drugs.

    For a government, the rub is, that people in this state are also harder to tax, (via cigarettes and alcohol), to bully or coerce into consuming, and less likely to vote unwisely, because they will mark their intended representatives on their integrity.

    Evolution towards a self determined state of mind is actually the only answer. The Ill intentioned, 'meat in, sausages out' personal shaping, offered by much of our education policy and societal indoctrination, just takes the population further from this.

    If you ask a Kiwi who is responsible for their health, safety, happiness, education, or their crime, … you be likely be answered with – my government, my boss, my parents…anything but 'myself'.

    Personal responsibility. ….Here is to more of that.

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