READER REPORT:

'I'm sick of the booze debate'

ROB KILKOLLY
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013
Wine
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
NICE DROP: Let's not make knee-jerk reactions to drinking in New Zealand, Rob Kilkolly says.

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When will this incessant whining end?

There has always been a booze debate in New Zealand. Throughout our entire history as a nation there has been concern about the 'evils' of drinking and the destruction of our moral fibre and our youth with excessive drinking. The debates went on about bad affects on youth, the availability of alcohol, drinking ages, licensing hours and how people should be educated (or not) on the mature use of alcohol.

In the late 1800s, concern was expressed over the Kiwi taste for alcohol and over-indulgence. Papers were written about it, discussions were had.

Back about 1918 the die was cast for prohibition to take effect in New Zealand. This was only stopped because no-one took in to account the New Zealand servicemen returning from The Great War, who were looking forward to their well-deserved beers when they got home.

In the 1960s we had early closing and the drinking age was 21. Concern was still expressed over the amount of heavy drinking, mostly because most men drank as much as possible as fast as possible before having to go home to the missus and the kids. Imagine the shock when the drinking age was dropped to 20 and pubs starting opening later than before.

Then along came Jenny Shipley who lowered the drinking age to 18. Let's teach our youth how to drink responsibly by giving them the opportunity to drink legally in public bars; after all they are already aren't they? Why make them criminals? Let's help to educate them.

But what of the even younger people now drinking in bars? Since 18-year-olds were getting away with it when the legal age was 20, now 16-year-olds will probably be doing it. National's answer? We will enforce the drinking laws more stringently and ensure identification is properly checked, we will enforce heavy fines and penalties on those who break the law.

Why didn't we do that when the drinking age was 20??

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I was well over 20 when the drinking age came down to 18. Do I think it was a good idea? Not really. Did I drink at pubs before I was 20? Of course. I'm just as hypocritical as the all the do-gooders out there, but at least I'm honest about it.

But the drunks I've have the most trouble with were all well over 18.

Now National is trying to fix concerns about drinking by creating poorly thought out legislation and regulations.

Yes, there is concern over the availability of alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets. There is concern over how cheap alcohol can be. Let's face it store owners, supermarket chains, publicans and brewers are in the business for one reason: To make money. There will always be specials, there will always be deals, there will always be a happy hour, there will always be someone wanting to sell you something. 

What I object to is the drive to treat alcohol like tobacco. One thing New Zealand is really good at is if the moral high ground don't like something, they want to create laws to ban it, increase taxes to make it less attractive, change packaging so that it is beset with warning messages and no longer attractive to the eye.

I don't know about the rest of you, but generally my beer comes out of a tap at the pub and I buy the brand I like because I like the taste, not because of the pretty colours. I buy brands of wine I like because I like the taste or the grape variety. So should we all now make sure all drink tastes the same as well?

I am strongly opposed to changes that appease the righteous few. I work hard, earn good money and am a mature, responsible adult. I like to have a drink and I like to relax and enjoy myself where and how I choose. I even get drunk now and then.

Raising taxes, forcing price hikes, changing branding, throwing large labels over everything simply inconveniences the vast majority of us that enjoy a tipple or two, or three, or five. It takes money out our pockets when we pay the same taxes as everyone else and have the same right to expression and liberty.

These proposed changes will not change the underlying issues. I don't have the answer, but I know taxation, labelling and prohibition are not the answers. We need more education and most likely more ambulances at the top of the cliff instead of at the bottom.

This is a debate that has gone on as long as New Zealanders have been drinking. Knee-jerk reactions and silly little changes are not the solution. They never were. So stop the whining.


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