The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) has welcomed the Law Commission’s recommendations saying they are carefully constructed and target those who drink in a harmful way while designed to have minimal impact on those who drink moderately.
“We support a re-write of the Sale of Liquor Act with the primary aim of the new Act to reduce alcohol-related harm,” said ALAC Chief Executive Officer Gerard Vaughan. “We believe this set of complementary proposals provides a firm platform for an Act that can deliver on that primary objective.”
Mr Vaughan said ALAC especially welcomed measures that would address the problem of really cheap alcohol, the wide availability and promotion of alcohol, and the provisions giving communities a say about the way alcohol was sold in their neighbourhood.
Mr Vaughan said some groups claimed that those who experienced problems with alcohol were only a small group of the population and that the measures proposed would unfairly impact on the vast majority of New Zealanders who drank moderately.
“In fact, a significant number, round 25 percent of drinkers, drink in a harmful way,” he said. “Also these measures are aimed at those who drink in a problematic way but designed to have minimal impact on those who drink moderately.”
Mr Vaughan said there were also substantial benefits for a large proportion of the population.
“We have been hearing from communities up and down the country who want to have a say in where liquor outlets are located, how long they are open and that they are sick of the vandalism and drunken violence that often occurs.
“The proposed changes to the licensing regime will give those communities an opportunity to influence those decisions.”
Mr Vaughan said ALAC supported increasing the retail price of alcohol.
“There is strong evidence that price is one of the key factors that plays a role in the way New Zealanders drink. Furthermore raising the price of cheap alcohol to reduce alcohol-related harm is one of the most evidence-based and internationally well-accepted strategies. Raising alcohol prices, in particular of really cheap alcohol, reduces consumption and consequently harm, especially in some ‘at risk’ population groups.
“It is important when considering how to deal with retail price we take a close look at introducing a minimum price for alcohol such as that introduced in Canada and proposed for Scotland.”
Mr Vaughan said ALAC supported returning the minimum purchase age to 20. “The age of initiation into drinking alcohol is related to increased risk of alcohol harm,” he said. “When the purchase age was lowered consumption increased at the lowered purchase age but also extended to younger age groups (the ‘halo’ or ‘trickle down’ effect) with young drinkers aged 15 – 17 acquiring alcohol from friends 18 years or over. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that half the school students in year 13 will turn 18 during the school year and can legally purchase alcohol.”
Mr Vaughan said ALAC supported making it an offence to supply alcohol to a young person under 18 without the consent of their parent or guardian and making it a legal requirement for any person supplying alcohol to a young person under 18 to supervise the consumption of the alcohol.
ALAC supported nationwide trading hours but also supported local variation (extensions or shortening) of the nationwide on-licence trading hours via a well-consulted local alcohol policy, and where licence applicants could demonstrate to the licensing decision-maker that they had a plan to manage the risks of extended trading hours including complying with conditions specified in local alcohol policies. Local alcohol policies should be mandatory, he said.