Price hikes no answer to booze problems

SAM HURLEY
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2012

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A proposal to introduce a minimum price for liquor is seen as not dealing with the wider problems and dangers alcohol causes, Hamilton industry experts say.

Discussions this week by Justice Ministry officials and industry leaders have attempted to create a pricing regime that will raise the cost of liquor by 10 per cent.

Waikato-based Alcohol and Drug Community Support Trust director Stephen King feels there are a number of issues that stem from New Zealand's drinking culture and thinks a simple prise rise will do little to help solve the problem.

"For the social drinker a raise of 10 per cent won't really affect them but for heavy drinkers it may make a difference," he said.

Mr King thought a proposed alcohol tax would not target all of the key areas to help stop the country's drinking problems. He said access to alcohol and sponsorship were key areas that needed to be addressed.

"New Zealand has 700,000 plus people that are considered 'heavy drinkers' and by no means are all of them young people. This potential rise in price is aimed at young drinkers because we stereotype them as the problem."

Mr King also suggested money from a tax on liquor sales could in part be used to help the 700,000 'heavy drinkers' who can be categorised by the number of standard drinks consumed in a 24 hour period – six for a male and four for a female – and by how many non-consecutive alcohol free days, between two and three.

Mr King and a Hamilton liquor store owner believed politicians were reluctant to take a stronger stance on alcohol issues because of fear of a public backlash.

"We don't like to be criticised for our drinking," Mr King said. "They are worried we will tell them to get their hands off our social lubricant."

A Hamilton liquor store owner believes that approving fewer liquor licences and not allowing supermarkets to sell alcohol would be a step in the right direction. But raising the cost could be dangerous.

"In such a small country it is hard to believe our drinking problem is so big, but raising the cost could cause more problems than solutions. People will look for other ways to get cheap liquor.

"The danger is that people will home brew or look to other drugs, such as marijuana. Who knows what people might put in their bodies."

A victim of an alcohol-related tragedy, Tina Nilson, knows of the dangers within New Zealand's drinking culture.

Her 17-year-old son, Shaun Nilson, was killed after a car – being driven by another 17-year-old who was five times over the legal limit – crashed in May last year.

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"We need to stop the next generation from joining this culture, I believe we are targeting the wrong people," she said.

Mr King said it was "rubbish" that neither council or the mayor could restrict liquor licences and he was worried about people looking for alternatives to find cheap booze.

"We need to keep it simple, a return to 20 for the legal drinking age would be better," he said.

GROWING A THIRST

Results from the latest Roy Morgan Research Single Source Survey show men aged 50 years or older account for the majority – 28 per cent – of the alcohol market.

11,000 New Zealanders aged 18+ took part in the survey which found the next biggest group was also men, aged 35-49, at 22 per cent.

Beer proved to be the most popular drink amongst men aged 50 plus making up 66 per cent of the drinks, compared to the population average of 57 per cent.

Wine was second with 19 per cent followed by spirits at 11 per cent and RTD's at 2 per cent.

- Waikato Times

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