Bill 'makes it easier for teens to drink'

PALOMA MIGONE
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2012

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The latest alcohol curbs planned by the Government aim to make it harder for teenagers to drink – but one high school student says it could do the opposite.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said this week that the controversial Alcohol Reform Bill would be back in Parliament for its final reading next month.

It had been "tightened up" since its second reading, so that children under 18 required explicit consent from their parents via text message or a phone call to have a drink, she said.

But Wellington High School student representative Evie Orpe, 17, said the latest change would "almost make it easier" for teens to get alcohol.

"You'll get a lot of younger people to just find a person to say it's their parents. What can you really do to confirm that it is their parents?

"When people want to drink, they are going to find a way to do it."

Ms Orpe said she wasn't into alcohol, but hung out with friends who enjoyed drinking during the weekends. Most teenagers get alcohol from older friends or ask people on the street.

Adults duped by teenagers would not be penalised, but those who "knowingly serve" liquor to minors would be liable to a $2000 fine.

The Government was also planning to ban the sale from off-licence premises of "ready to drink" mixes with an alcohol content of more than 6 per cent.

Ms Collins said RTDs (ready to drink) were a legitimate alternative to badly mixed drinks, but there was growing concern about drinks with high alcohol content that were also very sweet.

RTDs were Independent Liquor New Zealand's core business, with 16 mixes on its list. Chief executive Julian Davidson said yesterday that the company was disappointed that the drinks were targeted.

The Law Commission had indicated that if RTDs were hit, drinkers would move to other, potentially more dangerous drinks, Mr Davidson said.

Alcohol in general could be the problem, not RTDs particularly, and the company would "seek hard evidence" that backed the Government's move.

"We believe that all public policy should be based on facts and rational research, not superstition and emotion."

A range of other reforms to liquor laws were also proposed – all aimed at tackling New Zealand's drinking culture and reducing alcohol-related harm in communities.

Problem drinking was a major contributor to crime and a significant cause of public disorder, Ms Collins said.

According to the Alcohol Advisory Council, about one-third of all police apprehensions involved alcohol and half of all serious violent crimes were related to alcohol.

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Three in five drinkers consumed more than the recommended amount – six drinks for men and four for women – at one occasion during the last year.

As for youths, seven out of 10 secondary school students reported having drunk alcohol, with six out of 10 currently drinking. Nearly half of the students reported drinking five or more drinks in a usual session.

The legislation would make alcohol trading hours shorter, ban the sale of alcohol in dairies, restrict alcohol displays to one single, discreet spot in supermarkets, and give communities greater powers to create their alcohol policies.

Despite the changes, Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Bruce Robertson said it did little to address the country's drinking problem.

Seventy-five per cent of alcohol was consumed away from licensed premises, yet the Government was putting more restrictions on bars and restaurants, he said. It should introduce a drinking age, making it illegal for minors to consume alcohol.

Mr Robertson said the alcohol trading hours would negatively hit venues hosting late entertainment.

The biggest concern was the potential conditions and restrictions imposed by local governments, he said.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich believed the Government had struck a balance between regulation and consumer concerns.

"There are some areas that need to be tidied up," she said. There had been "rogue" dairies selling alcohol in tiny shops that looked like garages. "The Government has clearly sent a message that it doesn't want that sort of retail outlet."

Ms Rich said supermarkets were unfazed about restricting alcohol displays, but other members were concerned. Nut and chips manufacturers wanted to keep the products close to alcohol because it was "handy for shoppers".

Splitting the alcohol purchase age was also on the table. The bill would restrict alcohol sales at off-licences such as supermarkets to 20-year-olds, while leaving it at 18 for licensed premises such as bars.

MP Tim Macindoe has put up an amendment calling for the purchase age in all cases to go up to 20, while his National colleague Nikki Kaye has put up an amendment for it to stay at 18.

The split age was likely to win with the most support, but a return to 20 had the backing of some Cabinet ministers and senior opposition MPs.

For high school student Ms Orpe, the "split age" plan was "bloody pointless".

"What is that going to achieve?

"I think the drinking age of 18 is fine. It's not 18-year-olds that are causing the problem. It's people my age (17) that are a bigger problem.

"They are not drinking for any other reason than because they want to, and find it fun."

- Fairfax Media

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