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Report tackles young drinkers
By KATHERINE NEWTON and DAVE BURGESS – The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2009
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
HARD TO SWALLOW: Many young drinkers such as Thomas Brinsley, Darian Willis and Ella March do not agree with recommendations in the Law Commission report, such as raising the drinking age.
Liquor laws look set for a shake-up after the Law Commission recommended a rewrite of the Sale of Liquor Act, including raising the drinking age and the price of alcohol.
But lobby groups say responsibility needs to lie with the liquor industry that promotes the heavy drinking culture, while young drinkers say a higher drinking age will not change anything.
Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer, speaking at the release of the commission’s report on the Sale of Liquor Act, said he was “not advocating a return to wowserism”.
“But the preliminary evidence suggests the time has come to review the policy settings to reduce the excesses and curb the harm.”
Young people were drinking more often and more heavily, and many of the recommendations were aimed at reversing that, Sir Geoffrey said.
Between 2001 to 2005, alcohol was implicated in 16 to 20 per cent of all deaths of those aged between 15 and 29.
The commission suggested a split purchase age, which would restrict the sale of alcohol at off-licences to those 20 or older but allow 18-year-olds to drink in bars and restaurants.
It recommended alcohol prices should also increase, either through heavier taxes or a minimum price scheme.
Justice Minister Simon Power said it was too early to say what ideas would be supported.
“Issues relating to the age of purchase have of course historically been conscience issues.”
Alcohol Health watch director Rebecca Williams said the split age limit was “a bit of a compromise” and she was in favour of raising the purchasing age to 20 in pubs.
“The evidence clearly suggests that 20 for the purchase age is most effective.”
Doug Sellman, director of the National Addiction Centre, said he would be very disappointed if law changes did not include restrictions on liquor advertising, marketing and sponsorship.
“Liquor isn’t an ordinary commodity it’s a recreational drug.”
The report’s suggestions found favour with bar and liquor store owners.
Hummingbird owner John Coleman said Courtenay Place had been wrecked by the drunken, violent antics of young drinkers.
“It has come with the age limit being reduced to 18, which is wrong.
“I think it is a great move to restrict the sale of liquor at off-licences to 20-year-olds they should do that for bars too.”
But some young people, who are singled out in the report, do not agree with most of its findings.
Massey student Thomas Brinsley, 20, said a split purchase age made the law too complicated.
“There is always going to be a heavy drinking culture in New Zealand and we do have a big problem with that …
“But I still think you should be able to buy and drink alcohol when you are 18.”
The public has until the end of October to have a say on the report.
FOCUS ON BARS SAYS VICTIM’S DAD
Bob Palmer is all too familiar with the effects of New Zealand’s drinking problem – his son Brendan died because of it.
In 2004, Brendan, 18, a promising university student, was mowed down in a hit-and-run as he stumbled home after a night out drinking in Havelock North.
Mr Palmer did not deny his son was drinking, but said Brendan was only taking advantage of a national drinking culture aided by the liquor industry. “We tend to blame these kids all the time, when bars promote drinking and encourage bingeing.”
Any changes to the Sale of Liquor Act should force bars to take more responsibility, he said.
Some bars provided a safe environment but a lot of bars did not. They took money off customers and then threw them out into the street to fend for themselves. He was firmly in favour of raising the drinking age, for bars as well as off-licences.
“Put the whole lot back to 20.”
Mr Palmer also had concerns about the young age of bartenders. “We have 18-year-olds serving in bars who also don’t have a lot of life skills. So maybe [place] an age limit on how old a bar person can be.”