Call for raised drinking age gathers momentum

Canterbury's health bosses want the drinking age raised to 20 and the price of alcohol increased.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) yesterday voted to support a South Island alcohol position statement that makes five main recommendations for reducing harm caused by alcohol.

Christchurch police and health professionals have also backed the statement.

The recommendations are:

Raising alcohol prices, including increasing excise tax by at least 50 per cent.

Raising the alcohol purchase age to 20 for on-licences and off-licences.

Reducing alcohol accessibility, including tightening restrictions on numbers of outlets.

Reducing the marketing and advertising of alcohol.

Reducing legal blood-alcohol limits for drivers from 80 milligrams of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood to 50mg/100ml.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said about a third of cases at Christchurch Hospital's emergency department at weekends were for alcohol-related injuries.

He said dealing with intoxicated people affected the board's ability to reach the Ministry of Health target that requires all people be discharged or transferred from the department within six hours.

"We can struggle to achieve that target because we are pressured by intoxicated people . . . and consultations for some alcohol-related injuries are very resource-heavy because it's not just cuts and bruises. We see some very complex injuries," he said.

Board members unanimously supported the position statement.

Member Andrew Dickerson said excessive and binge drinking cost the health system millions of dollars each year.

"We know the harm that alcohol can do," he said. "Crime goes up, there's more sexual assault, domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, and I support this position statement 100 per cent."

Board member Chris Mene said he wanted residents to have more say over alcohol outlets in their areas.

Christchurch police alcohol strategy and enforcement team leader Sergeant Al Lawn welcomed the position statement.

"We work closely with the CDHB and they have supported those types of recommendations for a long time, but it's great that they have come out with such a strong statement," he said.

Christchurch Hospital emergency physician Scott Pearson, who was in the team that put the position statement together, said health professionals would "always be confronted by the effect of alcohol".

"We see everything from injuries to mental health issues caused by alcohol and it's not just the youth. They are a little bit demonised. We see all ages."

The Press