Young people can buy more than a week's booze for less than an hour's wages.
As politicians prepare to debate a 50 per cent rise in alcohol excise, Fairfax Media research shows pre- mixed, ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic cocktails are cheaper to buy than same-sized cans of soft drink.
For $10, youngsters can get their hands on 11 standard drinks' worth of knock-down spirits at most bottle stores.
Bottles of wine can regularly be bought for about $7, a dozen beers can be found for $10, and the cheapest RTDs can work out at as little as 47c per standard drink.
For just $11.98 - less than an hour's work on the $13.50 minimum wage - a teenage drinker can buy eight 330ml cans of pre-mixed whiskey and cola, and in one night knock back more booze than is recommended for an adult male in a week.
The dangers are clear, Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams says.
"Our heaviest drinkers are our younger age groups . . . and about half of the alcohol consumed in New Zealand is consumed in heavy-drinking situations.
"Price matters: You can buy a lot if you want to buy it . . . and get hammered."
RTDs were not just introducing youngsters to alcohol early, they were also serving as a gateway to hard liquor, she said.
According to Treasury figures, there were 30.5 million litres of RTD cocktails available on New Zealand shelves in 2011. And the market is growing - by 39 per cent since 2006.
The sugary, brightly packaged cocktails are the drink of choice for 12-17-year-olds. By contrast, they are the least preferred drink among those aged over 18.
Public health Associate Professor Nick Wilson, from Otago University in Wellington, said any increase in price would have a dramatic effect.
"It would be the most effective thing. Prices generally are thought to be the major factor in consumption, and youth particularly are very price-conscious. If the price went up, the law of economics would be that youth consumption would go down." Fairfax NZ
- Taranaki Daily News
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