Editorial: Local efforts showing the way in booze fight

Last updated 13:00 14/12/2012

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OPINION: Buried in the flurry of news this week was the passing of the Government's alcohol reforms.

It's been a drawn-out two-year passage for the legislation that promised a wide-ranging overhaul of drinking laws but has ended up much diluted.

One of the major changes proposed was to raise the drinking age to 20 or split the age, allowing 18-year-olds in licensed premises but restricting off-licence sales to those 20 and over. Parliament voted to retain the age at 18 in August.

Other proposals to establish a minimum alcohol pricing threshold, and a ban on RTDs containing more than 5 per cent alcohol, did not get enough support to make it into the new laws.

The three bills that passed in Parliament on Tuesday beef up liquor licensing rules, making licences harder to get and giving communities more say in licencing policy, such as maximum trading hours and the location of liquor outlets.

There are stronger controls on alcohol advertising and promotion, such as making it an offence to promote alcohol in a way that has special appeal to minors. The rules around supplying alcohol to under-18-year-olds have also been toughened.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the Government has achieved a sensible balance between curbing the considerable harm alcohol abuse can cause, without unfairly affecting the majority who are responsible drinkers.

She says social change cannot be achieved through legislation alone, and everyone has a role to play in changing the drinking culture.

That's true to a point, though legislation sets the tone for changes, backed up by enforcement and education, often through advertising campaigns.

In Nelson this week, the Tasman Regional Alcohol Accord - a venture involving police, councils, health leaders and bar owners - unveiled its new campaign aimed at young drinkers.

Instead of shocking with the graphic images used in advertising campaigns against drink-driving, the local accord has taken a different tack with its "Know Your Limit" campaign.

The images are of smiling young people drinking, but the words belie them: "I just can't wait to puke all over myself tonight."

It's an interesting combination of confrontation and amusement that could get through to young drinkers. It adds another tool to efforts to curb alcohol-fuelled disorder in central Nelson, which had threatened to get out of hand.

A stepped-up late-night police presence since April has led those efforts, resulting in fewer arrests and fewer liquor ban breaches. After an operation last weekend, Nelson Bays area commander Inspector Steve Greally said he was struck by the change in the city's nightlife environment, particularly among younger drinkers, since the start of the year. Long may it continue.

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The new central government laws have been dubbed the non-reform bill by some. But at least moves such as tougher licensing rules offer hope that in combination with strong local efforts, they can reduce alcohol problems.

- The Nelson Mail

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