Problem drinking among young people has not increased enough to warrant raising the drinking age, an economics academic says.
Members of Parliament will tomorrow vote on the Alcohol Reform Bill to keep the alcohol purchase age at 18 or increase it to 20.
Prime Minister John Key has said he will vote for the split option - 18 in bars and 20 at off-licence liquor outlets.
University of Canterbury economics lecturer Eric Crampton said there was "no strong evidence" the rate of potentially hazardous drinking had increased since the drinking age was lowered to 18.
He said a case would need to be made that "harm mitigation" outweighed the costs to young people who behaved responsibly.
''The Ministry of Social Development's most current social report showed that problem drinking among 15 to 24-year-olds - the narrowest category on which they reported - simply had not increased substantially since the lowering of the alcohol purchase age,'' Crampton said.
''In 1996-97, the rate of potentially hazardous drinking among youths aged 15 to 24 was no different than it was in 2006-07, the last year for which data was reported."
He said society could therefore not expect increasing the purchase age to reduce alcohol harm.
The alcohol purchase age was reduced from 20 to 18 in 1999.
Crampton said legislating over the drinking age was unlikely to influence the youth drinking culture.
"How odd would it be for a couple marrying at 18 to be forbidden from buying a bottle of Champagne to take home to celebrate," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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