The government has unveiled its liquor law reform package with an obvious focus on youth drinking. Justice Minister Simon Power announced the plans this afternoon that cover - partially or completely - 126 of the 153 of the recommendations of the Law Commission's report on liquor laws.
Key changes include: (from stuff.co.nz)
- A split alcohol purchase age of 18 for bars and 20 for off-licences.
- Banning the sale of pre-mixed RTDs that have more than 5 per cent alcohol or that contain more than 1.5 standard drinks.
- Making it an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under-18-year-old without a parent's or guardian's consent.
- Allowing the Minister of Justice to ban alcohol products which are particularly appealing to minors or particularly dangerous to health. This is expected to apply to things like milk-based alcohol drinks or alcoholic ice-blocks.
- Allowing local communities to decide on their own "alcohol plan" with details about the concentration, location, and opening hours of alcohol outlets to be included.
- Default national opening hours of 7am - 11pm for off-licences and 8am - 4am for bars and clubs. Local alcohol plans can over-ride the hours, however, with longer or shorter hours if they wish.
- Changing the definition of "a grocery store" to make it very hard for a dairy to get a liquor licence.
There is a clear and deliberate focus on the problem of youth drinking with the assumption that limiting alcohol access and appeal is going to change the drinking culture. Whether the Government is naive, or this is simply a public spectacle to make it seem as though they are being proactive, it fails to address the issue at the heart of the problem - New Zealand culture.
Limited access to alcohol has never been a problem for minors before and new legislation is unlikely to change this. In my opinion there are four main factors that influence youth culture the most and they are:
The package makes no mention of the Law Commission's proposals to increase liquor tax, as was done for tobacco in April, but it does state that the Government will investigate a minimum price regime. A rise in the purchase price of alcohol is going to hit youth where it hurts the most - in the pocket. The appeal of 'cheap n nasty' alcohol could be solved by eliminating the 'cheap' factor. Green Party MP Sue Kledgey said, "While we support the steps the Government is proposing to take and will be voting for the legislation, we will be fighting tooth and nail to amend and strengthen it - particularly around advertising and price - to make it more comprehensive." The main issue with this, of course, is that it also affects responsible drinkers who are destined to become innocent victims in any instance of liquor reform.
Advertising and popular media representations of alcohol consumption are also decidedly influential in shaping the mindset and behavior of youth culture. Currently, mainstream advertising glorifies alcohol associating it with sex, excitement and rebellion - particularly those targeted at a youth demographic. In the same way that skinny, air-brushed models on magazine covers create self-esteem and self-image issues among females, alcohol advertising contributes to the thinking and behaviour of our youth. In order for this to change, alcohol advertising needs to be regulated and new standards need to be implemented to counteract the damage that has already been done.
Another issue that was left out of the package was a proposal for harsher and stricter penalties for drunk and disorderly behaviour. On-the-spot fines, curfews, bans from clubs, medical bills and community service are all serious consequences that will eventually deter irresponsible drinking. Some 70 percent of accident and emergency hospital admissions are alcohol related. If the patient, rather than the taxpayer, was to foot the bill, not only would we save over $1 billion a year, but we may just see a shift towards a more responsible drinking culture.
Perhaps the most discernible influence on youth culture is that of the ones who raised it - adults. They have escaped remarkably unscathed from this proposed liquor reform, but they have a lot to answer for. Culture is something that is passed down from generation to generation, it doesn't evolve overnight, so the insinuation that New Zealand's drinking culture is primarily a 'youth' issue is unjustified. Our youth learned how to drink from their parents, their guardians - the various adults of influence in their life, and more often than not it is these same adults that supply our youth with alcohol. Until the older generation alter their attitude towards alcohol, we can more or less consider our youth a lost cause.
I agree that youth culture needs to be fiercely targeted in regards to liquor reform. They are the future adults, leaders and people of influence in our society. However, in order for significant cultural change to occur we require more than flimsy legislation enforced by smacks on the hand. 'Alcohol Action' spokesman Professor Doug Sellman, who is a National Addiction Centre director, said New Zealand is facing an alcohol crisis, and he likens the current response to "treating cancer with a couple of aspirin".
It is promising that the Government is making moves to combat our nations alcohol problem. However, the liquor law reform package as it stands is inadequate and is in need of serious reevaluation. Youth are just as much a problem as they are the solution.
Credit to stuff.co.nz, nzherald.co.nz & 3news.co.nz for this story.
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