More curbs sought on booze sales

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 26/11/2013

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Commerce is clashing with the health and law enforcement sectors on proposed changes to the way alcohol is to be sold in Nelson City.

The council received 636 submissions from a variety of organisations and individuals to the draft local alcohol policy. Hearings began today.

Councils, in consultation with communities, can now create policies on the licensing of premises for the sale and supply of alcohol. They have to consult with police, the medical officer of health and district licensing inspectors in forming policies.

Nelson police said figures show that the number of emergency calls in which alcohol was a contributing factor have increased from 2670 in 2008 to 2826 last year within the Nelson territorial authority boundary. At least 32 per cent of offenders apprehended each year committed crimes under the influence of alcohol.

Nelson Bays police area commander Inspector Steve Greally was to speak at the hearing to present the police submission which calls for reduced opening hours for off-licences to 9pm and for on-licences to 1am.

Police are also suggesting restricting opening hours for on-licences to 3am in the inner city zone, one-way-door restrictions to 2am and discretionary conditions in all zones to include extra security after certain hours, restrictions on the size of servings and times for "last orders".

However, the local branch of the trade association representing around 2500 hospitality businesses throughout the country, said it was "generally accepted" that most adult New Zealanders were not harmful consumers of alcohol.

Regional manager of the Nelson branch of Hospitality New Zealand, Jeanette Swift, said the council's plan needed to address alcohol-related harm in a balanced, well-researched and practical way that targeted actual problems.

"The 25 per cent of alcohol consumed in on-licensed premises is generally done in a highly regulated and controlled environment.

"Pre-loading, side-loading and post-loading of cheap, readily available alcohol at home, in cars or in public places is the real challenge and should be the focus of the council's policy," Ms Swift said in the branch's submission.

The New Zealand Winegrowers organisation said it supported policies that effectively addressed the harms associated with the misuse of alcoholic beverages, while also recognising that proper consumption of wine could "promote health, social and cultural benefits". Olivia Grainger said regulation had an important role to play in minimising harmful use of alcoholic beverages.

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However, it should not be seen as a cure-all, but rather one of a suite of measures to "address a complex problem that is fundamentally social rather than legal or political in nature".

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Mark Peterson was disappointed that the council was not seeking greater restrictions on maximum trading hours for on-licences.

"The medical profession is on the front lines of seeing the enormous harms incurred from alcohol. There is strong evidence to show that restrictions on maximum trading hours and curbing outlet density are key ways to reduce alcohol-related harms," he said.

Nelson Hospital emergency department senior medical officer Mark Reeves, who has spoken publicly several times on alcohol-related harm, said he was not anti alcohol, but "vehemently anti harmful drinking behaviour".

He said Nelson was like many other places in New Zealand in that it had a problem with teen and young adult binge drinking. Dr Reeves said drunk and aggressive patients took up a "disproportionate amount of time and resources" which impacted on doctors' ability to treat other patients.

"It's only a matter of time before patient inebriation contributes to one of us Nelson emergency doctors having to wear a serious and perhaps catastrophic ‘miss' for the rest of our careers," Dr Reeves said.

Debbie Christie, suicide prevention coordinator, Nelson Bays Primary Health, said alcohol was an easy drug to overdose on. She was advocating for effective regulation but not prohibition.

She strongly supported reducing alcohol accessibility by limiting the location of licences in certain areas.

Supermarket supply chain Foodstuffs South Island did not believe that any evidence has been produced that demonstrated restricting licensing hours would lead to minimising harm from alcohol consumption. "Foodstuffs fully appreciates that alcohol is not a normal product and the controls and protocols we put around its sale reflect this fact, but beer and wine is purchased by supermarket customers as part of their normal weekly shop," retail brands manager Tim Donaldson said.

The company believed that if an LAP restricted off-licence hours, the demand for shopping outside the liquor licence hours would inevitably reduce, affecting not just the viability of opening outside these hours, but also directly the lifestyle options of residents.

THE ALCOHOL EFFECT

The area overseen by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has a higher density of licensed premises than the rest of New Zealand. In 2012 there were 51.4 premises per 10,000 people in Nelson and Marlborough, and 31.7 per 10,000 in New Zealand. Last year there were 39.4 licensed premises per 10,000 people in Nelson City, 62.2 in Marlborough, and 52.3 in Tasman District. The number of vineyard licences is likely to be a factor. There has been a downward trend in rates of vehicle crashes associated with alcohol. NMDHB rates are similar or lower compared with the rest of the country. ACC ambulance data for Nelson city on alcohol-related callouts (December 2012 to May 2013) show that half of all calls were to private homes; 38 per cent were to public places close to the CBD. Alcohol-related presentations for acute conditions like injury and severe intoxication have a significant impact on hospital emergency department services, particularly for the 18-29 age group. On average, police handle 1316 alcohol-related arrests each year in Nelson city.

Source: Nelson City Council draft local alcohol policy workshop programme.

- The Nelson Mail

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