Latta goes easy on alcohol. Yeah, right

Last updated 09:30 13/08/2014
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NIGEL LATTA: Tackling New Zealand's big issues.
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Nigel Latta began the third episode of his six-part series reflecting on the drinking habits he adopted during his years as an Otago University student.

It was also where he began his quest to get to the bottom of New Zealand's alcohol problem.

Following a largely hands-on episode last week that looked at New Zealand's education system, this week the experts and the numbers were called on by Latta to reveal how New Zealand's drinking culture has become what it is today.

Latta and his experts looked at the immense financial cost of alcohol to the country, including that New Zealanders spend about $85 million a week on alcohol, but it costs the country about $5 billion a year in damage.

Alcohol is also reportedly cheaper than bottled water.

Further, 80 per cent of the country's plastic surgeries on the face can be attributed to assaults or falls involving intoxication.

A portion of the episode compared the damage alcohol does to our bodies and society, with that caused by smoking.

The damage caused by alcohol was reinforced by Latta's trip to Otago University's Pathology Museum. Several of the experts believed alcohol caused cancer, views seconded by a terminal-cancer patient.

Latta also spent a brief period tracking the change in society's behaviour over the last century.

The years 1979, 1967 and 1989 were all cited for notable changes in legislation. The allowance given to supermarkets to sell alcohol was heavily cited, and addiction expert Professor Doug Sellman told Latta he believed New Zealand's supermarkets were the country's "biggest drug dealers", given they sold 70 per cent of the alcohol.

Sellman also compared alcohol to a Class B drug being sold on a supermarket shelf alongside similar drugs such as morphine.

Constitutional lawyer and former prime minister Sir Geoffery Palmer shared his disappointment with Latta over the Government's handling of a Law Commission report that recommended several ways the country's drinking culture could be mitigated, despite admitting the changes he helped introduce in 1989 were wrong.

Latta also revealed he was approached by a lobbyist for the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand offering help, but as discussions on the programme's subject matter progressed, the offer disintegrated, and no one fronted.
On the subject of education, Latta went on to contact the head of their education initiative, The Tomorrow Project, responsible for the education website

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In a tense debate, Latta said he believed the initiative wasn't enough and had an agenda. He went further to determine that education about alcohol didn't work anyway, a view shared by recovering alcoholics and experts he spoke to.

Although Latta touched on marketing on a couple of occasions, the final minutes of the hour-long programme were devoted to the alcohol producers themselves, with the primary focus being that the country's alcohol manufacturers were owned by multinational corporations led by Mitsubishi and Heineken. Latta used the Speight's brand as an example of this.

New Zealand's free-trade agreements were also added to the debate.

Over the hour, Latta concluded that alcohol in New Zealand was a complex subject that involved substantial amounts of money, large corporations, and was heavily influenced by politics.

Latta was in favour of the recommendations of the 2010 Law Commission report into the subject, that recommended limiting availability, increasing the drinking age and price, and restricting advertising and marketing.

As with my past pieces on Nigel Latta's series, I've been careful to leave my personal views out of this one also as it is my belief that the viewer needs to come to their own conclusions from what has been explored in this episode. Latta presented an hour that was more thoroughly researched than the previous episodes of his series to date, and a highly qualified panel of experts all supported his opinions and the data presented.

One opinion I will share, however, is that this was Nigel Latta's best hour of television to date, and an excellent example of quality, well-researched investigative journalism.

I'm very much looking forward to Latta's fourth instalment, titled Killing Our Kids.

Latta is bound to go easy on New Zealand's record of domestic violence - yeah, right. 

See Jimmy Ryan's reviews of Latta's previous episodes on poverty and education.

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