Change drink laws, say young

More than two-thirds of people want the alcohol purchase age returned to 20, including half of young respondents, a survey of Press readers shows.

The Press has run a week-long series on teenagers and alcohol, and has received hundreds of comments from readers.

The series highlighted frustration among police and medics who have been overwhelmed by drunk teenagers since the purchase age was lowered to 18 a decade ago.

The Law Commission released a discussion paper last month on possible changes to alcohol laws.

The 280-page paper gives a slew of options on reducing alcohol harm, including changing licensing laws.

It suggests returning the purchase age to 20 or introducing a split purchase age, where a person would have to be 18 to visit a pub but 20 to buy alcohol from an off-licence.

Raising the legal age is supported by the Alcohol Advisory Council and Alcohol Action New Zealand, a group that includes Canterbury addiction expert Dr Doug Sellman, medics, police and other parties trying to get tougher alcohol laws.

A survey of 450 Press readers showed 50 per cent of those aged under 30 want the purchase age returned to 20.

Seventy per cent of this group said the lower drinking age contributed to greater numbers of teenagers having access to alcohol.

Twenty was a more responsible age, as those younger were still subject to the "hormonal rush of the teens", one reader said.

Support for raising the purchase age was higher in older age groups, with about 70 per cent overall agreeing this was a good way to reduce harm among teenagers.

The main reasons given by readers for supporting a higher purchase age were that 18-year-olds were too young to show good judgment while drinking and that their brains were still developing.

Readers were also concerned about the social costs of youth binge drinking, such as crime and hospital treatment.

"As a police officer for 33 years, I have seen a rapid decline in the behaviour of teenagers over the past 10 years due to alcohol consumption. It's very easy for them to obtain alcohol," a reader said.

Another said: "Lowering the drinking age seems to have lowered the age that young teenagers can access lots of alcohol and binge drink."

Between 50 and 84 per cent of all people who took part in the survey said they felt teenagers were now drinking more than those in their 20s before the purchase age was changed.

"I have noticed among my friends' children that the object of drinking now appears to be to get drunk," a reader said.

"They choose drinks with the highest alcohol content to get drunk as quickly as possible."

The main reason readers felt the purchase age should stay the same was that by that age people could do a lot of other adult activities.

"Eighteen is a more realistic age. They can marry, serve in the armed forces, etc. Eighteen is the new 21 in maturity and legality," a reader said.

Readers were less supportive of the introduction of a split purchase age than returning the age back to 20.

The Press