New drinking law a vital step

JUDITH COLLINS
Last updated 07:33 12/12/2013

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OPINION: Changes to improve our drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking take effect this month.

For the first time in more than two decades, the Government is acting to restrict, rather than relax, New Zealand's drinking laws. The changes, introduced by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, strike a balance between curbing the harm alcohol abuse can cause and penalising responsible drinkers.

The reforms put more limits on young people's access to alcohol, place more responsibility on those who provide it to them and give parents more control.

From December 18, you can give alcohol to someone under 18 years of age only if you are their parent or legal guardian, or you have "express consent" from their parent or legal guardian. Express consent could include a personal conversation, or an email or text message that you have good reason to believe is genuine.

If it is not your child, it is not your call. The new law applies to everyone - parents, friends, relatives. The penalty for breaking it is a fine of up to $2000.

As a mother, I know how difficult it can be to say no to your child when you know their friends are pressuring them to have a party with alcohol.

It is often easier to say yes, or turn a blind eye to what they are getting up to.

But young people do drink. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that if our teenagers are drinking, they do so responsibly and with supervision.

The new express permission and responsible supply rules reinforce this message. They also provide a tool for police to intervene in unsupervised or poorly supervised parties, such as after-ball functions.

Setting good examples for children and providing a safe environment for the younger generation is crucial to help drive change in New Zealand's drinking culture.

The new laws also make clear how much is too much by defining "intoxicated". This new definition will help the alcohol industry meet its obligations too by giving it a checklist to assess if someone has had too much. As under the previous law, operators can be fined up to $10,000 or lose their licences for serving intoxicated people, and there are fines of up to $5000 for letting them enter or allowing them to remain on licensed premises.

NEW laws also introduce on- the-spot fines for irresponsible drinkers - including $250 fines for people who drink in liquor ban areas; present fake identification; use someone else's ID to buy alcohol; or give or lend an ID to an underage person knowing they intend to use it to buy alcohol.

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As well as promoting personal responsibility among parents and young people, the alcohol industry must also play its part.

Bars, pubs and nightclubs will have new host responsibilities. All on-licences have to supply or make available low- and non- alcohol beverages, food, and information about safe transport.

The new licensing fee system fairly reflects the cost of alcohol licensing. It uses categories for different levels of licensing costs and risks in the alcohol industry. Fees will increase for most businesses, but regardless, the fees are reasonable - 99 per cent of licencees will pay an average of between $5.15 and $24.15 a week.

We're introducing new maximum trading hours for businesses that sell alcohol. This will help reduce the availability of alcohol, especially at times when people who have already had a lot to drink might drink more. On- licences and clubs, such as bars, pubs and nightclubs, will not be able to serve alcohol after 4am and before 8am. Off-licence premises, such as bottle stores, supermarkets and grocery stores, won't be able to sell alcohol after 11pm and before 7am.

Local councils may use local alcohol policies to set different maximum trading hours. These policies give communities more say on local licensing issues, such as limiting licensed premises near schools, and imposing conditions on premises, for example, one-way door rules that prevent patrons re- entering after a certain time.

The new rules for alcohol advertising, promotions and displays will also help scale back alcohol marketing. All ads and marketing that promote excessive consumption of alcohol or have special appeal to minors will be banned. Over time, displays of alcohol and associated advertising in supermarkets and grocery stores will be limited to one area of the store to limit shoppers' exposure.

The Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority will also have more power to penalise those in the industry who break the law.

If someone breaches certain provisions, such as breaking advertising and promotions rules, or selling and supplying alcohol to under-age drinkers and intoxicated people three times within three years, their licence or manager's certificate can be cancelled and they cannot get another for five years.

Change in our nation's drinking culture will not happen overnight, nor can it be achieved through legislation alone. We all have a part to play. The reforms will empower all parts of society - central and local government, communities, industry and parents and young people - to make a change for the better.

- The Dominion Post

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