Real Action On Alcohol

Our Real Deal Cannabis Reform was based around the idea of reducing overall harm to both individuals and society. One of the most startling facts to discover as part of this process was that the drug that causes the most harm to New Zealand society – by a long way – is actually alcohol. Both alcohol and cannabis are prevalent in our society and enjoyed by a huge number of New Zealanders, however alcohol creates more than four times the total harm. 

Alcohol is responsible for 4% of avoidable deaths – that is 600-800 people per year – and around $6b of total costs to society. Half of those deaths come from injuries such as violence and car crashes. On weekends, around 2 in 3 injury related admissions to Accident and Emergency are because of alcohol. Alcohol has a huge impact on people’s lives far beyond the resulting police and hospital bills; it is also a major driver of sexual offending and family violence.

The problem is that the framework for regulating alcohol has been relaxed over the last decade or two. Indeed alcohol regulation is far weaker than what we recommended for cannabis. Thankfully international and local studies have set out the key actions that are needed. The National Government has taken steps on some of these actions, although their attempt to allow local areas to set their own rules for the sale of alcohol has proved toothless and needs fixing. 

The two main areas that require urgent attention to reduce alcohol harm are the legal drinking age and the excise duty. The legal drinking age was reduced from 20 to 18 in 1999 and there is evidence that this has increased harm, particularly by lowering the ‘de facto’ drinking age to 14-17. The excise duty on alcohol has not been increased in years, so alcohol has become much more affordable, driving an increase in use.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) recommends increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase to 20 years, and increasing the price of alcohol by an average of 10% through excise tax. The $300m revenue from this will be used to provide a much needed injection of funds into community based youth mental health support and drug and alcohol treatment.

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Page last updated on 4-Jul 2017


The original idea of lowering the drinking age was that it was recognition that 18 and 19 year olds were drinking alcohol anyway. There is evidence of the ‘halo effect’; the idea that lowering the drinking age has in turn lowered the “acceptable” drinking age, resulting in increased harmful drinking amongst those below the legal drinking age. NZ Police report that due to the halo effect, the de facto drinking age is now 14-17. 

Of available actions to reduce alcohol related harm, tightening alcohol sponsorship and marketing has the weakest evidence behind it. TOP will keep a watching brief on the evidence base in this area.

In 2012 the Government allowed Local Authorities to create Local Alcohol Policies (LAPs) that theoretically allow locals greater say over the placement and hours of alcohol outlets. However this approach has been found to be legally lacking; in 2016 Dunedin City Council got taken to court for trying to implement them. The Opportunities Party would work with Local Authorities to review the LAPs and make sure they contain minimum standards plus the ability for local people to truly have a say over how alcohol is sold in their area.

In 2014 the National Government also lowered the allowable blood alcohol level from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08), to 50mg (0.05). There are some countries with a lower blood alcohol limit than this, such as Norway and Sweden (0.02). TOP’s position is that we need to evaluate the impact of the recent change before any further decisions are made.


Excise duty is levied per-unit of alcohol, and is expected to result in a 10% price increase on average. In practice it is unlikely to affect the price of craft beer bought in a bar much. There will be a far bigger proportional impact on the price of low cost alcohol bought from off-licenses and supermarkets. 

In terms of a weekly budget, alcohol is now far more affordable than it was in the early 2000s. This excise duty increase is simply adjusting for inflation and wage increases as per the recommendation of the Law Commission Report.

The aim of an increase in price is to reduce problem drinking, particularly amongst heavy drinkers and young people whose developing brains can be adversely affected by binge drinking. The money raised will be used to plug the gaps in our mental health system and drug and alcohol treatment programs.