New Zealand's Drinking Age - The Opportunities Party

Earlier this month The Opportunities Party released it’s Alcohol Reform Policy which focuses on reducing the overall harm caused by drinking to both individuals and society.

The policy was greeted with an overwhelmingly positive reaction, with the majority of respondents agreeing that the current social harms caused by alcohol consumption (which cost our country around $6 billion a year) need to be addressed. 

The two major takeaways from the policy are:

  1. Increasing the price of alcohol;
  2. Raising the purchase age.

Evidence has shown that these are the two interventions that have the greatest impact on reducing related harms.

Like most goods, the consumption of alcohol is sensitive to price. The higher the price rises, the less alcohol will be consumed, and the less alcohol related harm that society will bear. This is of course a very simplified statement, you can read the detail and rational behind it here.

Evidence has also shown that there is a significant correlation between the purchase age of alcohol and the range of harm that consumption causes. Following a survey of members, TOP’s alcohol policy advocated for a rise in the purchase age to 20.

After releasing our policy we received considerable feedback supporting the proposition of a split age. Under a split age those over 18 could still drink in licensed premises, but could only purchase from off-licences ( supermarkets and liquor stores ) once they turned 20.

Such a position would be an experiment – there are no precedents for this around the world. Given lack of conclusive evidence one way or another, we thought it would be best for the decision to be extended to an informed public debate.

It is important to note that the split age was very nearly enacted in parliament in 2012, after a recommendation from the Justice and Electoral committee.

The pros and cons of a split age.  

Pros

Support for the split age provision is generally based on concern about the way young people drink, and a belief that the lowering of the purchase age to 18 in 1999 has allowed young people to drink large amounts of alcohol more readily in unsafe and uncontrolled environments.

Since the lowering of the drinking age in 1999:

  • There was a significant increase in hospital presentations of intoxicated people aged under 20;
  • There have been increases in the trends for rates of prosecutions for excess breath alcohol, road traffic crashes involving alcohol, and fatal road traffic crashes involving alcohol among several youth cohorts in the years after 1999; and
  • The increase in alcohol-related crashes among 15 to 19 year olds was higher relative to older age groups in the four years following the law change, and the higher rate of increase in road traffic crashes among the younger age group has continued since.
  • There is also evidence of hospital departments treating more young people, particularly young women, for intoxication.
  • Police suggested that since the lowering of the purchase age the “de facto” drinking age was now 14–17 or even younger.

It was also argued that preventing older teenagers from purchasing alcohol at off-licenses would make it harder for them to supply younger friends or family members with alcohol. And that ‘preloading’ was a common practice and could be lessened by preventing 18- and 19-year-olds from buying alcohol at off-licenses, while still allowing them to drink in a more controlled environment, such as a bar or a night club.

Cons

It has been suggested that the split-age provision would be confusing for the public, and do little to address alcohol-related harm.

It would incur compliance issues, for example in on-licensed premises which also have off-licenses on site; and that it would create confusion for staff and customers.

So what do you think? Should TOP stick with our policy of lifting the drinking age to 20 or should we experiment with splitting the age? Take our survey and have your say! 


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