OPINION: Let's be quite clear on alcohol issues. If we banned it, all the crime, drink-drive deaths and a considerable amount of domestic violence related to alcohol would disappear.
Lives, and more than $1 billion, would be saved, time lost for "sickness" at work would fall, hospital beds would be freed up and binge drinking would become a thing of the past. Of course, thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry would be lost, tourism would take a hit and gangs would go into the sly grog business.
For all that is bad about the alcohol industry, there is a lot of good.
Likewise, when MPs voted for any of the three options on the alcohol purchase age on Thursday it could be argued there was good and bad logic to their thinking.
The problem alcohol causes runs across all ages; it just so happens that the 18-year- old brain is more susceptible to having problems with it. But those 18-year-olds are not penalised for their age when they want to vote, or volunteer to put their lives on the line when they join the army.
Parliament, in acknowledging the problems caused by alcohol in its alcohol reform legislation, has decided the age we now set for buying it must not be counted as an actionable one.
It would not have been a major surprise if Parliament had opted for a split-age rule, but as in 2006, they have gone for the status quo. We can't be sure whether or not that was down to the lobbying MPs received from the booze barons, but to be fair cigarette companies have so far met their match, no pun intended, in the Beehive. That leaves availability, price, alcohol strength and advertising still on the table. They appear easier areas to tamper with than the age limit and the Alcohol Reform Bill must make some major changes in one or more of those areas to have any lasting value. Among the bill's objectives are reducing binge drinking and the harm caused by alcohol.
Parliament has been debating this bill since late 2010 and if it does not make significant advances it runs the risk of becoming, to use an adjective which was common some years ago, a Claytons bill. In the 1980s Claytons was the drink you had when you were not having a drink.
Perhaps some young people were given that as an alcohol alternative 30 years ago, a time when used Japanese imports were unheard of and teen binge drinking was not a phrase anyone used. Then, cigarette companies sponsored all the big sports events and in the bar veteran drinkers ordered sweet draught beer with an alcohol content of around three per cent. Today, 18-year-olds are jumping into their high-powered cars to head down to the nearest liquor shop - and they are nearer today - for a cheap box of eight per cent bourbon and cola.
Having turned down calls to lift the age at which people can buy alcohol, Parliament could do worse than address issues of pricing and the levels of alcohol in the popular ready-to-drink mixes.
The Alcohol Reform Bill, a response to the Law Commission's report on alcohol legislation, is seen as a starting point for alcohol reform, but there is an expectation it will mean more than cosmetic change.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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