Expert disputes claim about youth drinking

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012

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Claims by an economist that problem drinking among young people has not increased enough to warrant raising the drinking age are "wrong" and based on "unsound analysis", an addiction professor says.

Members of Parliament will vote today on the Alcohol Reform Bill and whether 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 - age 18 in bars and 20 at off-licence liquor outlets.

University of Canterbury economics lecturer Eric Crampton has said there was "no strong evidence" that the rate of potentially hazardous drinking had risen since the drinking age was lowered to 18. He pointed to the Social Development Ministry's current report showing that problem drinking among 15- 24-year-olds had not increased substantially since the lowering of the alcohol purchase age.

However, Professor Douglas Sellman of the National Addiction Centre, University of Otago, Christchurch, said Crampton's position was "a very broad brush use of statistics".

The "whole body of evidence" needed to be considered when drawing conclusions about youth drinking "especially when it is being used to advance a particular political position as Crampton is doing".

Sellman said the Law Commission examined the whole body of evidence during its major alcohol review of 2009-2010, including the data Crampton was quoting.

"The overall conclusion is that there is an increase in alcohol-related harm from reducing the purchase age," Sellman said.

Last night, Crampton stood by his comments.

"The gains of potential reductions in bad behaviour have to outweigh the costs we impose on those who aren't causing problems," he said.

"I would encourage you to look back over the last five years of Sellman's press releases and tell me he is not trying to push a political agenda."

The alcohol purchase age was cut from 20 to 18 in 1999.

Youth charity White Elephant Trust manager Nathan Durkin said he was disappointed that minimum prices, restrictions on marketing alcohol at young people and where alcohol could be sold had taken "a back seat" to the split age debate.

The split age was "tokenism" on the part of the Government, Durkin said.

The bill was "just scapegoating youths".

"In reality, young people have learnt their drinking from their parents," he said.

Southern Area Commander Inspector Malcolm Johnston said lowering the alcohol purchasing age "didn't help in the slightest" in terms of disorder offending.

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