We know booze is a culture problem

From The Dominion:

Editorial: Booze laws not enough

Trying to curb binge drinking is presently exercising the minds of MPs, who are in the midst of passing the Alcohol Reform Bill.

It introduces some measures, such as restricting liquor outlets and giving communities greater control over licences and opening hours, but is just a tiny part of the solution.

The overriding problem is that too many New Zealanders regard alcohol as something to be consumed with the sole aim of getting drunk. That will not be overcome by changing the law, but by changing the culture.

Yes, we know we have a major booze culture problem. We know we need to change more than laws.

But how do we change our booze culture?

RTD debate – contributed facts

On a previous post Mark Unsworth (consultant to Independent Liquor) provided some detailed facts  – unverified but no reason to doubt them:

“Lets throw some facts into the debate.”

  • The RTD market has 2 distinct parts Light ( vodka and gin based) and dark ( bourbon and rum based )
  • The dark market is approx 75% of the market
  • The light market is predominantly favoured by females and is generally at the 5% alcohol level.
  • The dark market is favoured predominantly by men and older drinkers and alcohol levels range from 5-8%
  • Past market research has shown that approx half of RTD drinkers are over the age of 34.

This was backed up by a survey of 500 RTD purchasers across retail outlets in NZ in late 2010.

Now some quotes from the Alcohol Advisory Council of NZ (ALAC ) June 2006 magazine…

One of the messages ALAC has been trying to get out there is that alcohol is alcohol and taken in standard amounts there is no inherent difference between a standard drink of beer, a standard drink of wine and a standard drink of spirits.

Yet the myth persists that some types of alcohol are somehow worse than others. It is perpetuated in the media with stories of youth and their consumption of the latest ”evil product” RTS.


And while RTDs are often seen as the drink of choice for youth ,beer was the most popular alcoholic drink for youth, favoured by 44 percent of those surveyed.

What did the Law Commission say about RTDs after extensive research?

Despite these concerns,.there are strong arguments why it is not feasible to ban or directly target RTDs. The risks associated with drink RTDs are of no marked difference to any other alcohol product.

It is likely that banning one type of alcohol product would simply lead to the development of alternative products by the alcohol industry. Some experts consider that young people would be likely to switch products in order to obtain cheap alcohol if measures were introduced to single out RTDs by increasing their price or removing them from the market.

Some of the products to which they may switch are arguably more likely to cause harm because of the high alcohol content ,such as straight spirits mixed with other beverages.
( Alcohol in our Lives:Curbing the Harm 2010)

The Australian RTD Tax

What happened in Australia when the government imposed a 70% tax increase on RTDs in April 2008?

Australian Bureau of Statistics consumption data ( ’000,000 litres pure alcohol))




































The tax had an immediate impact on RTD consumption, down by approx 40% but this was balanced by increases in wine and spirits consumption leaving no change in the total amount of alcohol consumed at all. A fascinating example of a misguided public policy intervention driven by emotion rather than logic .

Other international experience

There has been one scientific literature review of RTD ( alcopop) consumption carried out in Germany ( Metzner Krause). It noted:

The review of results from investigations of alcopop consumption and its impact on an early onset of alcohol use,more frequent alcohol consumption,heavy episodic drinking,and negative alcoholic -related consequences show that there is scarce evidence of a relationship between the consumption of alcopops and the described effects.

The last myth to destroy relates to the cost of RTDs. Drinkers, especially young drinkers, are very price conscious and will seek out the best ”bangs for bucks” in terms of standard drinks.

RTDs are the most expensive form of alcohol with cask wine being the cheapest. A 3 litre cask can be purchased from a supermarket for $16. This equates to 6 bottles of wine and 27 standard drinks.

$30 can now buy you:

  • over 50 standard drinks of cask wine
  • 29 of beer
  • 33 of spirits
  • 24 of RTDs

Mark Unsworth ( consultant to Independent Liquor)

Popping alcopop popularity

The Alcohol Reform Bill aims at lopping the lapping of loaded lolly water.

Alcopops (RTD) – high sugar cordial type drinks with alcohol added – are believed to be a major contributor to drunkenness and binge drinking, especially amongst young women. They are being targeted in changes proposed in the Alcohol Reform Bill.

Facts from Independent Liquor and the Law Commission report the reforms are based on:

  • The most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, particularly women.
  • RTDs made up 12% of the total alcohol market in New Zealand by volume.
  • Up to 180 million alcopops were sold in New Zealand each year
  • More than half of RTDs sold had an alcohol content of 6% or more
  • The majority of RTD sales were in off-licence stores, such as convenience stores, supermarkets and bottle shops.

I’ve checked an online bottle shop.

  • Alcohol content 5%, 7%, 8%
  • Can and bottle sizes 250ml, 330ml and 2 litre cartons
  • Most are between $2 and $3 dollars each (cartons $23-25).
  • A rough calculation – this is a half billion dollar per year industry

The Alcohol Reform Bill would ban off-licence stores from selling RTDs with more than 6% alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

It is claimed this could significantly reduce sales. It seems likely it would at least force a change to lower alcohol content sales.

Obviously this will concern some in the liquor industry. Executives have met with Justice Minister Judith Collins and “urged her to quash a law change that will ban the sale of high-strength alcopops in bottle stores.”

Liquor industry fights RTD Bill

Managing directors from heavyweight drinks companies Bacardi, Jim Beam, Brown-Forman and Diageo were invited to the Beehive on Monday to discuss the alcohol reforms due to return to Parliament later this month.

They have told Mrs Collins policy that restricted the sale of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages unfairly targeted one part of the industry and threatened to breach international trade rules.

Distilled Spirits Association chief Thomas Chin said the industry was strongly opposed to the amendment, evident in the fact that senior members of four corporates had met the Minister.

“You can well imagine what’s at stake for their respective businesses. We’re talking about the highest-ranking officers – it demonstrates how serious the policy threat is to the businesses.”

Alcopops are often linked to what is called ‘preloading’ – getting pissed cheaply before going out clubbing.

The proposed restrictions will be opposed by some who think people should be free to choose for themselves what they drink, and how blotto they get.

The Law Commission (and I suspect a lot of MPs) think the change will help address a major alcohol problem.

This doesn’t affect me. I don’t drink RTDs, and rarely have.

What do the consumers think?

Maori Party on the Alcohol Reform Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell (MP for Waiariki) and the Maori Party are proposing significant amendments to the Alcohol Reform Bill to address alcohol related harm.

Alcohol harm drives Maori Party to propose significant changes to Bill

The Māori Party is proposing significant amendments to address alcohol related harm by making changes to the Alcohol Reform Bill including the restrictions around proximity of liquor stores to schools and tightening up the criteria around trading hours.

“Alcohol is killing up to a thousand New Zealanders each year, and in one third of all crimes the offender had consumed alcohol prior to the offence,” said Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki.

“If these statistics were not enough, then one only needs to look at our young people to know we must do all we can to save lives and keep our families from further harm. Nearly one-fifth of all deaths for males and one-tenth of all deaths for females aged between 20 and 24 are attributable to alcohol misuse,” he adds.

“No matter how you look at it, alcohol harm is a huge issue and it is sapping our communities of their greatest potential.”

“The Māori Party has been speaking out about the ongoing concerns relating to easy access to alcohol. We supported the efforts of the local community in opposing the application of a Cannons Creek  liquor outlet for a licence to sell liquor directly opposite school gates  and have been concerned that in Whanganui alone there have been four stores open up in just over a year.”

“The Maori Party believes that more can be done to prevent the harm which is associated with alcohol misuse and abuse in too many of our homes”.

“Our changes will ensure that alcohol cannot be bought anywhere between the hours of 3am – 10am and includes a ‘lockdown period’ from 1am – 3am for on-licence retailers”

“Our amendments also include provision for the Minister of Health to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol.”

“Our bill will limit the visibility of alcohol advertising and sponsorship in an effort to de-normalise alcohol. This includes grocery stores, where alcohol will need to be kept out of public view.”

“To address the high number of liquor outlets, we will have a sinking lid policy within territorial authorities so that over time we will gradually lessen the number of outlets. To ensure that smaller towns are not left without an outlet, the sinking lid only applies if there is another liquor store within 5km.”

“Finally, we need to give more community input into tackling alcohol harm. We have seen some heroic action taken by local communities right throughout the country, in trying to put in place protections around the sale and purchase of alcohol.  Our bill will make the proximity to a school a criteria for determining liquor licences and ensure Maori representation is included in the membership of the local committees who determine liquor licences.”

Maori Party SOP details:

  • Make the proximity to a school a criteria for determining liquor licenses
  • Local committees to expand by one to accommodate a mana whenua representative
  • Limit the visibility of advertising/product in grocery stores and grocery shops (so they are not visible in the store, but they are able to be sold)
  • Eliminate advertising and sponsorship of alcohol except inside on-licence premises
  • Sinking lid policy on off-licence retailers (liquor stores) within territorial authorities (replacement of existing stores is the only exception and only if there is not another liquor store within 5km)
  • Trading hours: Changed to 10am – 10pm for off-site, 10am – 3am for on-licence premises with a one-way door restriction period from 1am – 3am
  • Minimum price per unit of alcohol sold (which will be set by Minister of Health) – this follows the model proposed in Scotland

Supplementary Order Paper No 81:

Alcohol Reform Bill
Proposed amendments
Te Ururoa Flavell, in Committee, to move the following amendments:

New heading and new clause 43A
After clause 43 (line 20 on page 51), insert:
Minimum price of alcohol

43A Minimum price of alcohol
(1) Alcohol must not be sold or supplied at a price below its minimum
price on any licensed premises.

(2) Where alcohol is supplied together with other products or services
for a single price, subparagraph (1) applies as if the
alcohol were supplied on its own for that price.

(3) The minimum price of alcohol is to be calculated according to
the following formula:
MPU x S x V x 100
MPU is the minimum price per unit (expressed as a decimal)
S is the strength of the alcohol (expressed as a decimal)
V is the volume of alcohol in litres (expressed as a decimal)

(4) The Governor-General may from time to time, on the recommendation
of the Minister, specify by Order in Council the
minimum price per unit for the purposes of subparagraph (3).

(5) For the purposes of subparagraph (3), where—
(a) the alcohol is contained in a bottle or other container;
(b) the bottle of other container is marked or labelled in
accordance with the relevant labelling provisions, the
strength is taken to be the alcoholic strength by volume
as indicated by the mark or label.

(6) The Governor-General may specify by Order in Council, on
the recommendation of the Minister, the enactments which are
relevant labelling provisions for the purposes of subparagraph (5).

The Green Party say “We support all the measures in Te Ururoa’s SOP but haven’t yet looked at what Labour proposes.” (Kevin Hague as spokesperson).

Charles Chauvel: Alcohol Reform Bill

(Reply to email requesting clarification on minimum pricing)

Having sat on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee and paid careful attention to the many thousands of submissions that were made to the Committee, my view is that the Alcohol Reform Bill as currently drafted, is too weak to make a difference to our binge drinking culture.

Much of that evidence is summarised in the report of the Select Committee to Parliament, which you can find on the parliamentary website – Alcohol Reform Bill – and which I hope you will read.  To change that, the evidence presented to the Committee showed:

  1. A minimum price regime for alcohol would make an enormous difference.
  2. More restrictions on advertising – ultimately with a view moving toward a health sponsorship council-type model as operates in the tobacco area – are highly desirable.
  3. Much greater restrictions on the availability of alcohol are urgently needed.

On the issue of age, I am not convinced that voting in isolation to raise the purchase age from 18 would make as much as a difference as a combination of the three measures I have referred.  However, thanks to the way the National-led Government has set the debate up, age has so far been virtually the sole focus of the reform debate.

Labour MPs have a conscience vote on the Alcohol Law Reform Bill and on amendments to it.

A number of Supplementary Order Papers (SOP) are expected to be put up from the Labour Caucus members to deal with the problems of availability, advertising and price that all the expert evidence indicated to the Select Committee contributes to our binge drinking culture.

The minimum pricing one will go up in the name of Lianne Dalziel MP.  I will put one up to give local communities a stronger say on the number, mix and opening hours of alcohol outlets in their communities.  My colleague Iain Lees-Galloway MP will put up others, including on advertising.

The aim is to do what most of the thousands of submitters on the Bill asked Parliament to do – continue to leave people free to enjoy a drink responsibly but to try to start tackling the binge drinking problem.

I am not aware of any concluded view on what price should be.  The SOP is an empowering provision only. It leaves up to the Minister whether to have a minimum price, and if so how it should operate.  That power does not even appear in the Bill at the moment.

The evidence at Select Committee was that targeting cheap wine in supermarkets used by younger people for “preloading” – ie excess drinking before heading out to onlicensed premises for a night out – ought to be the main aim.

A minimum pricing regime could simply target that product, say by providing for a ceiling or cap of say $12 per bottle of wine so that other beverages were not affected.  That would still double the price of the cheapest existing wine which can be bought at the moment for $6.  Or it could be more complex.

Obviously it would need not to create unintended incentives to purchase other products in lieu of cheap wine on which to preload, or to penalize responsible drinkers.

I listened to all the submissions to the Select Committee.  Apart from those from the alcohol industry itself, they overwhelmingly called for legislation that would better target binge drinking.  The evidence was that a careful combination of rules about price, availability and advertising could do that while still allowing everyone else to continue to drink responsibly.  All this SOP would do is allow price to go into the mix.

Charles Chauvel MP
Shadow Attorney-General
Spokesperson for Justice
Spokesperson for Arts, Culture & Heritage