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New Zealand to Tighten Liquor Laws

  1. Balzafire
    The government of New Zealand is planning to introduce measures in an attempt to curb the culture of drinking, especially among young people.

    New Laws to Curb New Zealand's Culture of Drinking - Photo from Zero at the Bone
    The government of New Zealand is planning to introduce measures in an attempt to curb the culture of drinking, especially among young people.

    On August 23, 2010, the government of New Zealand announced they would introduce new laws regulating the sale of liquor. The proposed legislative changes follow the release of the Law Commission’s Report entitled “Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm” that was published last April.

    The government announced that 126 of the Commission’s 153 recommendations would be implemented although not all in the same form that was detailed in the report.

    The impetus for the Law Commission’s report and government action is the heavy drinking that New Zealanders, especially young people, engage in. The country has a culture of binge drinking that is defined as consuming more than eight drinks at one sitting. In January 2008, the New Zealand Drug Foundation was quoted in the Epoch Times as saying that the heaviest drinkers in the country were 18 and 19 year olds. And teenage binge drinkers were more than twice as likely to suffer harm as any other group.

    As the police in both New Zealand and Australia found out in December 2009, law enforcement alone will not curb the socially acceptable practices of young people binge drinking.

    Proposed Changes to New Zealand’s Drinking Laws

    Under current New Zealand law, it is legal for adults to serve alcohol to those under 18 at social functions, regardless of whether the parents of children consent. The proposals will make supplying alcohol to those under 18 a criminal offence in the absence of consent of the minor child’s parents or guardians.

    Alcoholic drinks that are pre-mixed will be limited to those whose alcoholic content is 5% or less. The size of these pre-mixed drinks will be limited in size to 1.5 of a standard alcoholic drink. Because the pre-mixed drinks are sweet, they are attractive to younger people.

    Local governments or councils will be given more power to regulate where drinking establishments can be located and their hours of operations. It is felt that local authorities are better attuned to regulate drinking in their areas than the New Zealand government is.

    Currently the age for drinking in premises that serve alcohol is 18 and people must be at least 18 years of age to purchase liquor in a store or supermarket. The government intends to leave the drinking age at 18 but plans to restrict the sale in stores and supermarkets to those who are 20 years of age or older.

    Prime Minister John Key defended these proposals saying that they provided a good balance between the harm that alcohol does and the rights of responsible drinkers to consume liquor.

    According to Justice Minister Simon Power, there are 1,000 deaths from drinking each year in New Zealand. Alcohol is involved in 30% of crimes that police become involved in and Power added that the use of alcohol is involved in 34% of domestic violence offences and 50% of homicides.

    Critics Say Changes in Drinking Laws Don’t Go Far Enough

    Although the steps that the government has taken were generally applauded, critics argue that the changes do not go far enough. Bruce Robinson, the chief executive of the Hospitality Association told the media that the main problem that remains is drinking by those who are under 18. The hospitality industry does not feel that the proposed changes will affect their business.

    Other critics stated that although the government adopted most of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, they refused to enact important recommendations that are needed to reduce the consumption of alcohol. One of these is the government’s failure to lower the blood alcohol level to .05. The government also did not impose higher excise taxes on alcohol to increase the price of liquor and therefore lower the demand. Price increases would affect younger people to a greater extent.

    The government was also criticized for not paying much attention to the marketing and advertising of alcoholic beverages.

    Others did not like the fact that casinos were exempted from the hours of operation that will apply to licensed premises under the proposed law. And still others felt that the age limit for persons who can legally consume alcohol in a bar or restaurant should be raised from 18 to 20; the same age that will be required to purchase liquor in a store.

    The government intends to introduce this legislation sometime in October, 2010.

    Arthur Weinreb
    Aug 23, 2010


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