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“In the space of a few decades, Government-led reform has brought about a drop in rates of people smoking and a turnaround in society's attitude. Now is the time that similar reforms occur with alcohol to reduce the enormous harm alcohol is causing New Zealand.” Professor Doug Sellman.

Professor Sellman is director of the National Addiction Centre. He is also a medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action NZ. The group formed in 2008 in response to what they saw as a 'National alcohol crisis'.

'A national alcohol crisis'

Ask him to quantify the problem and figures flow freely.

  • 700,000 alcohol-related physical and sexual assaults annually
  • At least 600 babies born with alcohol-related brain damage annually
  • A third of all alcohol-related deaths due to cancer.

He could give many other examples.

“The majority of us (Alcohol Action) enjoy drinking but we're all alarmed about the way alcohol dominates many social situations and the scale of the unhealthy and dangerous drinking culture in contemporary New Zealand. This 'crisis' enriches the alcohol industry, while causing immense harm to individuals and society as a whole.”

Alcohol Action: presenting scientific evidence

The group's aim is to help bring about evidence-based alcohol reforms through publicising scientific evidence and influencing public opinion.

He believes attitudes towards alcohol are changing. He uses the example of his golf club where clearly more members now drink low alcohol beer. Few did before. This change is likely due to the lowering of the limit for driving one of few alcohol law reforms to date.

Law Commission recommendations could reduce harm

The Government made a grave mistake ignoring the major recommendations from a review of liquor laws by the Law Commission, Professor Sellman says. Taking this scientifically-based advice could have reduced alcohol-related problems untold.

Alcohol Action lobbied hard about the recommendations. It continues to urge law makers to adopt them, and has distilled the message into the '5+ Solution'.

The 5+ Solution
1. Raise alcohol prices
2. Raise the purchase age
3. Reduce alcohol accessibility
4. Reduce marketing and advertising
5. Increase drink-driving counter-measures
PLUS: Increase treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers

Professor Sellman says the group will continue to share scientific evidence. Though he is realistic change may be slow in coming. He believes individuals can make a big difference – and not just doctors or advocates.

“By talking about these reforms with family, friends, community leaders and politicians, eventually the Government will act and society's attitude will change.”

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