Liquor-tracking technology touted as booze blame game brews

JOHN WEEKES
Last updated 19:39 15/08/2016
FAIRFAX NZ

Disputes over the cause of "mayhem" in central Wellington have led to suggestions that tracking technology could be applied to liquor products.

KEVIN STENT/ FAIRFAX NZ
Sgt Damian Rapira-Davies says it's important to discuss the steps that lead to dangerous or illegal drinking habits.
FAIRFAX NZ
Brewers are not convinced tracking stickers will be practical or do anything to combat irresponsible drinking.

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Tagging booze products with "irremovable stickers" to track where problem drinkers get their grog is being debated for Wellington.

The city's district licensing committee mulled over the idea as police and alcohol industry groups debate issues around booze-fuelled crime, litter, and disorder.

It has cited the suggestion in an annual report to be presented to Wellington City Council on Wednesday.

It triggered surprise or scepticism from industry groups and retailers this week, but police and the medical officer of health were more open to the idea.

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"Apparent mayhem" in parts of the CBD could be addressed only if evidence linked alcohol harm to specific retailers' products, the city council agenda item says.

"The question of how to apportion responsibility ... is an extremely difficult one, with applicants universally arguing that it is not they who are to blame," the report adds.

The document cites discussions from a licensing hearing earlier this year. The district licensing committee (DLC) was thinking "creatively" about the issue, and considering potentially putting stickers or markers on licensees' products to see which products were "causing the harm".

Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford hadn't previously been told of the proposal, but suggested it would face practical barriers.

"I think that would pretty challenging really, from both a logistical point of view, and it would add substantial cost to the product, which would ultimately need to be passed on to consumers."

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Stephen Palmer, Medical Officer of Health, said the idea emerged at a licence renewal process for Liquor King in Kent Terrace.

"IMPRACTICAL AND INEFFECTIVE"

Sara Tucker, spokeswoman for Liquor King's owner Lion New Zealand, said the brewer previously argued the sticker proposal would be impractical and ineffective at reducing alcohol-related harm. 

Palmer said a neighbour objected to the Kent Terrace licence renewal, using photos of littered booze products at a nearby school.

Both the retailer and Lion queried suggestions that any particular outlet could be blamed for the garbage.

"It's very easy to put a sticker on things at the point of sale ... that seems to me to be the most simple thing," Palmer said.

Wellington Police alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Damian Rapira-Davies said it was important to understand the "causal nexus" connecting liquor retail, consumption and abuse.

People breaking alcohol laws or bylaws were often committing "gateway offences", which led to fighting, sexual assaults or domestic violence.

"It's about looking at a range of things that create a lot of problems we've got."

He was confident brewers or distillers could comply with any requirement for tracking labels. "If there's a demand for particular packaging, then the industry will meet it."

Brewers Association spokesman Kevin Sinnott said retailers, not liquor producers, would most likely have to apply stickers or similar technology.

He believed the proposal sounded like an over-reaction, considering recent positive trends. "The number of 15 to 17-year-olds consuming alcohol on a regular basis has halved over the last decade."

Councillor Andy Foster, deputy chairman of the DLC, said ongoing disputes over licensing were expensive and time-consuming for all parties.

"You've got police and Public Health on one side, and you've got the bars and off-licenses on the other side of the argument."

The council he said, was often left "stuck in the middle".

- Stuff

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