Monday 2 May 2011 8:51am
A paper published in the international scientific journal Drug & Alcohol Review examining the alcohol bill presently before Parliament argues that it falls well short of the major reform promised by government.
The analysis, by a team of scientists at the University of Otago’s Department of Preventive & Social Medicine, shows that the Government has largely failed to adopt evidence-based advice provided by the Law Commission.
The team examined the Law Commission’s 517-page report with reference to the international research evidence. Lead author Associate Professor Kypros Kypri says:
“The Law Commission’s comprehensive review drew from research evidence and 3,000 public submissions to produce recommendations for substantial legislative reform. In general, the Commission’s advice to government was consistent with research evidence.”
The Commission recommended raising alcohol excise taxes which would increase the cost of alcohol by 10%, returning the purchase age to 20, and regulating advertising and promotion, with a view to ultimately permitting only product information in advertising.
“The aim is to reduce the physical and economic availability of alcohol, particularly for young people, and to stop the promotion of alcohol as a glamorous consumer product. Another aim is to give communities greater say in how alcohol is promoted and sold locally,” says co-author Professor Jennie Connor, public health physician and Head of Preventive & Social Medicine at Otago.
The Government flatly rejected the Commission’s advice to increase price, opts for a split purchase age, still permits very late, or even 24-hour trading, and leaves the regulation of alcohol advertising up to the liquor and advertising industries themselves. “This is akin to leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse”, says Dr Kypri. He adds that:
“While the Bill may improve the operation of the licensing system, we believe it will fail to meet its primary objective of reducing harm. It also stops short of giving communities the kind of input to liquor licensing that they have clearly indicated they wish to have.”
Dr Kypri notes that public opinion strongly favours reform.
“There have been more than 9,000 public submissions on the Alcohol Reform Bill, currently being considered by a Select Committee. This is unprecedented in New Zealand history and shows the strength of feeling for substantial law reform.
“Surveys show that the public want to see the purchase aged returned to 20, restrictions on outlet density and late night trading, and proper regulation of alcohol advertising.
“Public sentiment is generally consistent with the research evidence, so it is important that the Government resists commercial pressure and acts in the public interest here.”
Professor Connor added that “despite their stated intention to tackle alcohol-related harm seriously, the Government risks missing the opportunity to adopt effective, evidence-based policies. There is still time to amend the Bill and we hope the Government will not squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reduce harm from heavy drinking in New Zealand.”
The Select Committee, chaired by Chester Burrows, is due to report back to Parliament in June.
Reference: Kypri K, Maclennan B, Langley J, Connor J (2011). The Alcohol Reform Bill: More tinkering than reform in response to the New Zealand public’s demand for better liquor laws. Drug and Alcohol Review 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00320.x [Publisher: Wiley Blackwell]
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