Liquor experiment should have ended

WARWICK RASMUSSEN DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 01/09/2012

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OPINION: Our Government has done itself a disservice by keeping the alcohol purchasing and drinking age at 18.

The majority of public feeling was that the age had to go back up to 20. The 13-year-long experiment had not gone well.

In 1999, alcohol laws were relaxed, including dropping the legal drinking age from 20 to 18.

It coincided with a boom in liquor sellers, as well as a market swamped with cheap, sweet and powerful alcoholic drinks aimed at young drinkers.

This week's vote of 68-53 to "keep it at 18" came after the third, split age option dropped out of contention.

Why it was even considered in the first place is another matter altogether.

One of the arguments to retain the age at 18 was that it was an age when people are allowed to do all manner of things, such as smoke, vote and join the army.

Applying that logic is only a distraction. Are they honestly trying to draw a parallel between people joining the army for a career and a major factor in our youth binge drinking culture?

Having a lower drinking age serves only to bring even younger drinkers into the fold. If the legal age is 20 there is less chance that 15 and 16-year-olds are accessing alcohol.

The other plank to the "keep it 18" argument is that there are many other factors that contribute to the problem such as price, availability, and so on.

That is true, but why throw out an option that could make a major impact? It just doesn't make sense.

Professor Doug Sellman, often seen as the voice of alcohol reforms in New Zealand, was rightfully appalled at the vote result. He accused the Government, as well as MPs who voted for 18, of caring more about the effect on the liquor industry than on the health and wellbeing of young people.

He said the Government "seems determined to ignore the best international evidence on effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm, the Law Commission's comprehensive review, the advice of national experts, the prime minister's own scientific adviser, as well as a majority of the public, in order to shepherd through Parliament an Alcohol Non-Reform Bill, which foremost benefits the alcohol industry".

His reaction was scathing but it was right on the money.

Well, we made it. Winter is done and dusted for another year and we get to look forward to warmer days ahead. Plus, it's only a few more weeks until daylight saving kicks in. Yesterday provided a pleasant farewell. May we have more of the same for a little while yet.

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- Manawatu Standard

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