The drinking age

What is often referred to as the drinking age is more accurately the alcohol purchase age.

Yesterday Gareth Morgan successfully got policy debated when he announced his TOP policy on alcohol, which included raising the ‘drinking age’ to 20.

Alcohol is responsible for 4% of avoidable deaths – that is 600-800 people per year – and around $6b of total costs to society. Half of those deaths come from injuries such as violence and car crashes. On weekends, around 2 in 3 injury related admissions to Accident and Emergency are because of alcohol. Alcohol has a huge impact on people’s lives far beyond the resulting police and hospital bills; it is also a major driver of sexual offending and family violence.

The problem is that the framework for regulating alcohol has been relaxed over the last decade or two. Indeed alcohol regulation is far weaker than what we recommended for cannabis. Thankfully international and local studies have set out the key actions that are needed. The National Government has taken steps on some of these actions, although their attempt to allow local areas to set their own rules for the sale of alcohol has proved toothless and needs fixing.

The two main areas that require urgent attention to reduce alcohol harm are the legal drinking age and the excise duty. The legal drinking age was reduced from 20 to 18 in 1999 and there is evidence that this has increased harm, particularly by lowering the ‘de facto’ drinking age to 14-17. The excise duty on alcohol has not been increased in years, so alcohol has become much more affordable, driving an increase in use.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) recommends increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase to 20 years, and increasing the price of alcohol by an average of 10% through excise tax. The $300m revenue from this will be used to provide a much needed injection of funds into community based youth mental health support and drug and alcohol treatment.

Read the research.

The research is arguable, as are TOP’s proposed solutions.

New Zealand certainly has major issues with drinking and alcohol abuse, and there are many associated problems. But it is far from a youth problem, so is targeting 18 and 19 year olds fair and a good way to limit the damage?

Some responses from politicians:

  • Prime Minister Bill English “I don’t think there’s been a strong case made for raising the drinking age. I think it would create all sorts of challenges that we don’t know how to deal with.”
  • Amy Adams (Minister of Justice) “I voted for a split age and that’s still my preference”.
  • Nick Smith “Retain the drinking age at 18 for on-licence, but increase it to 20 for off-licence” (split age).
  • Steven Joyce (Minister of Finance) “No, not personally. I think it’s about right where it is”.
  • David Bennett (Minister for Food Safety) “I’ve always been an 18. I think at that age you’re able to make that choice”.
  • Jonathan Coleman (Minister of Health) “Yes.”
  • Phil Twyford (Labour) “I think that 18 is fine”
  • Eugenie Sage (Greens) “stick with what we’ve got and people can go to war says if people can go to war at 18, then they should be allowed to drink”.
  • Judith Collins “Probably not going down that path”.
  • Marama Davidson (Greens) “It’s not an age thing, I think that all people need to learn to drink responsibly”.
  • Maggie Barry National minister) “We’ll stay with the status quo”.
  • Marama Fox (Maori Party) wanted it raised by mentioned serving in the armed forces.
  • Alfred Ngaro (National minister) “I think at the moment it seems to be working ok”.
  • David Seymour (ACT) “It’s another beat up on young people. Binge drinking and alcohol consumption is actually going down among young people”.

Only one Labour response. None from NZ First.

With most National MPs asked supporting no change then raising the age looks unlikely.

Leave a comment

21 Comments

  1. I hated the binging stage with my kids. I hate the NZ drinking culture, but good luck with changing it.

    21, 20, 18. It’s all the same. We’re a nation of p/$$)eads, a nation of swillers and good luck with changing that. Were the hard working, hard drinking country and we’ll never get the 6 o’clock swill out of our system no matter how many sophisticated bistros and whiskey bars that are opened.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  July 5, 2017

      We are well down in annual alcohol consumption by world standards.

      I have never seen a whisky bar, but bistros (which are small restaurants) seem an odd place for pissheads would go to in order to binge drink. Restaurant drink prices alone would make this unlikely !

      The 6 o’clock swill was done away with when ? two generations ago ?

      Reply
  2. Patzcuaro

     /  July 5, 2017

    Prime Minister Bill English “I don’t think there’s been a strong case made for raising the drinking age. I think it would create all sorts of challenges that we don’t know how to deal with.”

    What a load of rubbish, “creating all sorts of challenges that we don’t know how to deal with”

    Lifting the age by 2 years for off licence purchases would reduce the amount of preloading that goes on and make alcohol more expensive for the 18-20 year olds which is no bad thing.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  July 5, 2017

      Is it too much to ask for evidence of a problem? Farrar has repeatedly produced data that refutes the claim lowering the age aggravated a problem. It’s the usual crap of trying to penalise everyone because of the stupidity of a few. Tackle the stupid, not the sensible. Age is irrelevant and I don’t believe the crap about immature brains.

      Reply
    • So, can it be extrapolated that less control on all drugs would reduce their usage and consumption?

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  July 5, 2017

        A shift to self-control and responsibility? Saw a TV talking head last night saying “If it’s legal it must be ok” The epitome of brain-dead authoritarianism.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  July 5, 2017

          I’d like to see that. There is insufficient information in your comment to support your conclusion. What program was it?

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  July 5, 2017

            When I was a teenager, people said that the underage drinkers in pubs were likely to behave well and not draw attention to ourselves, er, themselves. This did seem to be the case.

            Anyone who believes that raising the age would mean that underage drinkers would be unable to get alcohol is dreaming.

            Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  July 5, 2017

            “The Project” I think, G. Someone else had it on. It was wrt legalising cannabis.

            My reaction was, “Good God you utter moron, it’s legal to drink bleach. Does that mean you are going to do it or think it’s ok?”

            Reply
  3. Ray

     /  July 5, 2017

    Gareth Morgan seems determined not to get into Parliament.
    Pisses off youth with his dopey drinking policy.
    Same with rural voters having to pay for the rain that falls free out of the sky.
    The old by promising to fiddle with superannuation.
    Who is left.

    Reply
  4. alloytoo

     /  July 5, 2017

    If the voting age is 18, would we not be creating a second class citizen of 18-19 year olds, with such a policy, I doubt such a policy would survive judicial challenge.

    Reply
  5. Zedd

     /  July 5, 2017

    maybe they could consider.. drinking on licensed premises; 18 BUT buying takeaways; 20 ?

    i grew up with the age at 20, but I first got into the pub at 16 (with a whispy 5 o’clock shadow) & often went in, with my Dad at 18. There were girls (about 14 ?) with there older boyfriends. Everyone in the area, knew which pubs, to go to. They even gave verbal warnings… ‘The cops are coming’ many scattered at that point.
    ie “show us your money & welcome in”

    BUT the current ‘issue’ is just politics, pure & simple.. same with all the talk about drug reform

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  July 5, 2017

      Ah , the good old days, Zedd%.. The days when the sphincter muscles spasmed after spying the police coming your way and knowing you are underage. Nowadays you just tell them to fuck off…you’re busy.

      Reply
      • Zedd

         /  July 5, 2017

        actually Corkey; they were ‘bad old days’ pubs were closed on sunday, but we just went to the ‘Pizza hut’ & shared a pizza & drank beer all arvo ! 🙂

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  July 5, 2017

          Played all the albums we had & got trashed at schoolmate Paddy’s place every Saturday night in Waitara @ 16. 6 of us. Brian looked easily old enough to buy beer & scotch. We were allowed to sleep over in the sleepout. His mum made us breakfast in the morning – if we could keep it down. At least she knew where we were.

          Reply
        • Corky

           /  July 5, 2017

          Sorry, Zedd%, there may be a decades different between us, hence our different perspectives.

          Reply
    • Corky

       /  July 5, 2017

      Talking of drugs, I see Dunny is making his play for re-election.

      Reply
  6. Kitty Catkin

     /  July 5, 2017

    I think that telling a cop to fuck off, you’re busy (busy underage drinking) would not be a clever thing to do.

    My brother and his friends were all under-age drinkers. Most are now respectable citizens (it still comes as a surprise to see X, whom I still think of as a slobby teenager, on television being interviewed as a respected financial expert-X ???) One became a cabinet minister. One is an internationally famous designer. And so on. (my brother is not one of the ones who has had a successful career, alas)

    They used to stay at our house, and sleep in my brother’s bedroom. One night, my mother was surprised that there was no sound at all when she was going to bed herself….the room was empty and the window unlatched. Mother latched it and went to bed herself. At some very late hour, she woke to hear frantic efforts to open the window and a lot of muffled swearing. They eventually had to go to the door and knock, of course, and mother, of course, took her time to wake up and hear them-and get her laughter under control. I can’t remember what explanation they gave.

    When I lived in the Nurses’ Home, someone could be relied on to unlock the fire escape door.

    Reply
  7. John Schmidt

     /  July 5, 2017

    I had not realised that there are two different methods of determining age for consuming alcohol until I lived in the US for a period of time. You cannot drink alcohol until you are 21 in the US. Consequently high school parties have no alcohol at all. Parents are breaking the law if alcohol is provided to u21 year-olds. Meant parties were totallyvdifferent scenes to that in NZ.

    Reply

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