Alcohol harm has important implications for Maori

TARIANA TURIA
Last updated 08:04 20/12/2012

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OPINION: With Christmas and New Year's celebrations approaching it's timely that we focus on the issues that contribute to binge drinking, drink-driving and the disastrous consequences for our communities. Alcohol consumption and binge drinking have become an entrenched part of our culture here in Aotearoa which is contributing not only to drink driving but also family violence, other criminal offences and major health problems.

The cost to taxpayers is horrendous and the state cannot continue to abrogate its responsibility to address drink driving.

The Maori Party proposed significant amendments to address alcohol-related harm by making changes to the Alcohol Reform Bill including the restrictions around proximity of liquor stores to schools and tightening up the criteria around trading hours. So it was disappointing when a majority of MPs refused to support the recommendation to lower the blood alcohol level - and that in many respects the bill falls well short of the dramatic change we need.

Alcohol is killing up to a thousand New Zealanders each year, and in one third of all crimes the offender has consumed alcohol prior to the offence. Youth drink- driving is one of the largest causes of death and injuries on New Zealand roads. The damage from alcohol consumption has far reaching consequences for Maori. About half of the Maori population is under the age of 24 years, and with Maori having four times the rate of years of life lost as a result of alcohol, I believe that it's critical that we think constructively about how we can best help to preserve young Maori lives longer.

I applaud the work the drink- driving campaign and other campaigns such as Students Against Drunken Driving (SADD) are doing to change attitudes towards drinking and driving which is helping to reduce deaths and permanent disabilities on our roads. Our youth can play a major role in shaping the views of their peers. While these campaigns are often hard hitting with visuals that show the reality of the death and disability caused by drunk drivers, too often these messages are being ignored.

Aotearoa needs innovative leadership at every level of the community to transform current cultural norms around alcohol use. Let us challenge the normalisation that often treats drink driving and binge drinking as acceptable or where beer and wine are just as accessible to the community as bread and milk. The status quo must also be challenged so that our children do not have to pass stores, open to sell alcohol, on their way to and from school.

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It is the role of Government to regulate the commercialisation and potential glamorisation of alcohol. Yes, the responsibility of alcohol consumption ultimately lies with the individual, however, if we are to reduce the very real harms being caused by alcohol then we must act to regulate it through decisions on how and where it is sold and also through powerful advocacy and education.

I wish all your readers safe and alcohol-free driving on our roads this summer.

If we treasure our friends and family, I know we won't be drinking and driving. Noho ora mai ra.

- Taranaki Daily News

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