Alcohol Law Reform Submission

March 7th, 2011 at 1:01 pm by David Farrar

Appeared this morning before the Justice & Electoral Committee (well technically Sub-Committee A of the said Committee) to speak to my submission on the Reform Bill which is below. I’ve appeared so often before that Committee, that I’ve now been labelled a groupie :-)

Had around 15 minutes, and thought it was a good discussion. The MPs engaged well and are obviously over the many issues in the bill. Everyone agrees we want less harm from alcohol. The trick is isolating the measures that will do that, and not have consequences which may lead to more harm. Plus also not overly penalising responsible drinkers.

SUBMISSION OF DAVID FARRAR TO THE JUSTICE & ELECTORAL SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE ALCOHOL REFORM BILL 

About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

    Executive Summary
  2. The Government’s alcohol reform bill is an improvement on the status quo. However in some areas it does not go far enough, and in other areas it unfairly penalizes all New Zealanders, rather than more precisely targeting drinkers that cause harm to themselves or others.
  3. In this submission I have mainly focused on the areas where I think change is desirable, rather than list every clause I agree with.

    A

  4. I believe that .the culture of youth drinking will not change unless we have a drinking age, as well as a purchase age. This may not be popular, but I believe it is necessary.
  5. At present it is totally legal for an adult (any adult) to supply a bottle of vodka to a 13 year old. It is only illegal to purchase it with the intent of supply, but it is not illegal to supply it. And intent is very difficult to prove.
  6. The proposed new requirements around supply of alcohol to minors are a good step in the right direction, and are arguably one of the most important parts of the bill. However I do not think they go far enough.
  7. I think parents need to be given assistance and tools in dealing with youth alcohol issues, and a drinking age is one way to do this. It allows parents to say “No it’s illegal to drink at your age”.
  8. Some will argue a drinking age is ineffective and can’t be policed. But by that argument we would not have a legal age for sex either. The idea isn’t to arrest lots of parents and young people for under-age drinking – but to send a clear message about appropriate ages. A comparison could be made to the age at which children can be legally left alone – 14. Now parents do not get arrested because they pop down to the dairy for 30 minutes while leaving a 12 year old at home. But it does mean most parents know that you generally should not leave under 14 year olds unsupervised.
  9. The ages I would propose for a drinking age are:
    1. 14 with parental supervision
    2. 16 with parental approval and adult supervision
    3. 18 otherwise
  10. Effectively this would say that no one under the age of 14 should be drinking alcohol at all, that 14 and 15 year olds can only drink with their parents (a wine with dinner type scenario) and that 16 and 17 year olds can only drink with parental permission and adult supervision (a birthday party supervised by other parents etc)
  11. A breach of the drinking age law should be an offence for the young person involved, as well as for whomever may have supplied the alcohol.
  12. It could be worth considering that only certain types of alcohol (ie not spirits) be legal at the younger ages.

    The purchase age

  13. A drinking age will be far more effective in changing the culture of youth drinking than criminalizing 18 and 19 year olds for drinking.
  14. I am aware the purchase age will come to a conscience vote at committee of the whole stage, regardless of decisions by this select committee, so I don’t plan to spend too many words on this issue.
  15. A purchase age of 20 is impossible to justify as a principled position. At 18 one can even be elected to Parliament or a local Council. I note the future MP for Botany was elected to the Manukau City Council at 18 and the Mayor of Porirua was elected to his Council at the age of 19. This bill would give 18 and 19 year old Councillors a major say in local alcohol policies, but make it illegal to purchase a bottle of wine.
  16. The proposed 18/20 split age is better than a 20/20 age, but will seriously undermine the move to make it unacceptable to supply alcohol to under 18 year olds. This is because it will be legal for a 20 year old to supply alcohol to an 18 year old but not to a 17 year old. We want a law which says it is unacceptable to supply alcohol to anyone underage.

    Excise Duty/Minimum Prices

  17. I support the level of excise duty being set as a level which will cover the external costs of alcohol consumption.
  18. There is credible research that the current level of excise duty does cover the external costs. There has been other research done which has concluded that the level of excise duty is not high enough. However that research has been shown to be totally flawed, containing the most basic errors such as counting private costs as external costs, yet not counting private benefits. The Government and Parliament should be very wary of decision making on such flawed research.
  19. The current excise regime is not consistent by strength of alcohol. Wine has a much lower excise for its volume of alcohol than other products, for example.
  20. I believe there is merit looking at either revising the excise tax to be less discriminatory or a minimum price scheme based on alcohol volume.

    Local Alcohol Policies

  21. I generally support the ability of local communities to set alcohol policies for their area. What is appropriate for Cannons Creek may not be appropriate for Courtney Place.

    RTDs

  22. The Government has announced a policy intention of limiting RTDs to 5% strength and 1.5 standard drinks. This is not directly in the bill, but provision has been made to enable the Government to regulate this at a later date.
  23. As a market research company, my company (Curia) was engaged by Independent Liquor (NZ) Ltd to do quantitative and qualitative research on this issue, including the likely impact of any change. This research has been cited in their submission on the bill.
  24. Based on this research, and also research in Australia, I have no doubt that a law change to restrict RTDs to 5% strength would in fact lead to more alcohol induced harm, rather than less. Around half of RTD drinkers buy 6% to 8% RTDs, and if these were legislated out of the market, many of them would then purchase spirits instead so they can self-mix drinks.
  25. The Law Commission itself warned of the dangers of targeting just one sort of alcohol, due to substitution issues. I would urge the Government and Parliament to take heed of the Law Commission advice on this issue.

Again, in summary, I would urge the committee to apply a filter to all proposed measures, measuring how effective it will be in reducing harmful drinking, and how much it will impact people undertaking non harmful drinking. We want measures that maximize the former and minimize the latter.

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16 Responses to “Alcohol Law Reform Submission”

  1. Ryan Sproull (7,033 comments) says:

    How did those studies determine that if RTDs were 16% to 37% less alcoholic, current consumers would switch to self-mixing?

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  2. orewa1 (428 comments) says:

    Spot on DPF. Its high time pragmatism like this prevailed over whimpish politics.

    Somebody has to have the balls to admit that dropping the purchasing age was a massive mistake.

    The only change I would make to your submission would be to flesh out the definition of “supervision.” Getting paralytic with your teenagers does not constitute supervision. Perhaps the responsible parent should have shared responsibility for any harmful act the minor commits while in a “supervised” scenario.

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  3. David Farrar (1,856 comments) says:

    We asked purchasers of RTDs in bottle stores whether they would buy something else such as spirits if RTDs were restricted to 5%. Around 60% said they would. This was also backed up in five separate focus groups we ran around the country, where the majority of RTD drinkers said they substitute if there was a 5% cap. And even those who said they personally would not substitute (ie they only drink 5% RTDs at the moment) agreed such a move would lead to greater harm.

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  4. redeye (631 comments) says:

    [deleted by DPF as defamatory]

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  5. Pete George (22,863 comments) says:

    The ages I would propose for a drinking age are:
    14 with parental supervision
    16 with parental approval and adult supervision
    18 otherwise

    Imposing a drinking age is something I’ve had the most concerns about. I think this gets the balance as close to right as is possible. I think the age breaks are sensible, and most parents would have no problem enforcing them – it will make that easier.

    It should be harmless and non-actionable (in practice) if a parent gave a <14 child the occasional sip in private.

    The only difficulty is what suitable repercussions would be, they would have to be directed at the parents or suppliers.

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  6. Michaels (1,317 comments) says:

    It is simple madness not to have a drinking age, in some circumstances I think this age should be around 80!!!

    (Talking about drinking reform….. Where was the cork count? Was supposed to be on the 16/2 maybe I missed it but have just been back through and I don’t think so).

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  7. bearhunter (859 comments) says:

    Nothing to argue with in your submission DPF, except I’d argue that 14 is still too young for a legal drinking age. While I think, like Pete George does, that “it should be harmless and non-actionable (in practice) if a parent gave a <14 child the occasional sip in private", if you make it legal for Mr & Mrs Sensible to give junior a sip of pinot with Sunday dinner, then you also make it legal for Mr & Mrs Arsehole to grab a couple of slabs and get on it with their 14 YOs.

    I'd go with 16 as a legal drinking age, regardless of whether parentally supplied or not. Sadly, you can't trust all parents to be responsible.

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  8. redeye (631 comments) says:

    Ok maybe I went a bit far with the push-polling claim but surely you must recognize that if you tell a teenager you’re going to take something off him/her and then suggest a way they can still have what they want, the vast majority are going to thank you and answer in a way to satisfy you employers?

    We asked purchasers of RTDs in bottle stores whether they would buy something else such as spirits if RTDs were restricted to 5%.

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  9. David Farrar (1,856 comments) says:

    Redeye: First of all go learn the difference between push polling and a leading question. Secondly we’re not just talking teenagers. The quant research was of all RTD purchasers in a bottle store and they were not given any briefing on the bill or steered in any way.

    And finally don’t you think you look patently stupid by claiming it must have been biased without even knowing what was asked. All that shows if you are biased.

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  10. Camryn (550 comments) says:

    Hear hear, DPF. Thanks for taking the time to make such a sensible submission. If only I could make a monarchist out of you we’d be golden ;-)

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  11. redeye (631 comments) says:

    Yes, I suggested I went too far with the push polling claim. You deleted it. I’m happy. I apologise.

    But when you posted “We asked purchasers of RTDs in bottle stores whether they would buy something else such as spirits if RTDs were restricted to 5%.” I thought you were being literal. Obviously not. What exactly was the question can I ask?

    If you are blogging your submission and opening it up for comment I assumed you were not only looking for positive comments.

    Can I further ask, if you were attempting find out about what teenagers would do if the RTDs were reduced in alcohol, why bother asking/polling non-teenagers?

    And no I don’t think I looked ‘patently stupid’. Was that necessary or did it touch a nerve?

    [DPF: yes when you defame me in your initial comment, it does touch a nerve. I make my living from acting ethically and profesionally in this field. When an anonymous commenter starts off by smearing me on my own blog I don't like it.

    As to the research more generally, people can of course be cynical of research based on who commissions it. But the response I would make is if you are suspicious or cynical then please please please go commission your own research. If anyone really thinks that there won't be substitution, then go actually talk to those who do consume RTDs. I'd be amazed if you get a different response.]

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  12. mpledger (429 comments) says:

    The ages I would propose for a drinking age are:

    1. 14 with parental supervision
    2. 16 with parental approval and adult supervision
    3. 18 otherwise

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I think the “parental approval and adult supervision” is to easy to get around. A kid will tell a supervising adult that his parent’s said it was o.k. when who knows what the parent said. Without written consent it’s just totally impossible to untangle who intended what – if the shit hits the fan, is it the kid who is lying or the parent.

    And what does adult supervision mean in this context – one adult has to watch the specific person drinking for the entire drinking session or can they supervise 100, 1000 or even rotate supervision. Can they refuse supervision after drinking starts because the 16 year old is not doing what they are told i.e. supervision has been effectively discontinued, if so then who is responsible if the kid starts causing harm – the parents, the kid, the supervisor?

    And since an adult is 18+ it mean that a 7th former can supervise his peers parties. Hmmmm? Given that 18-19 year olds are the heaviest per occassion drinkers it would make things worse rather than better.

    Parental supervision until 18 seems the best bet.

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  13. georgebolwing (611 comments) says:

    Leaving aside the question of whether Parliament should be legislating to stop adults harming themselves, I have yet to see any compelling evidence that we have a youth drinking problem, as opposed to society-wide drinking problem.

    In this vain, I pose the following thought experiment to Kiwiblog readers:

    If there was universal compliance with a law that said no person under 20 could drink alcohol ever, would we still have problem drinking in New Zealand?

    If the answer is yes, then I am not sure why we are focusing on people between 18 and 20.

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  14. bhudson (4,734 comments) says:

    georgebowling,

    Logic is a dangerous thing. Given that the change to the purchasing age is a relatively new thing, and not yet arguably a birthright for those partaking legally, the question could also be asked “has the problem of binge drinking increased since the purchase age was lowered?” if the answer is yes then immediately reverse that change before determining what to do next. (also very compatible with lifecycle and development management practices.)

    [Also, the response to my question is no more speculative or subjective than the one you raised, so I don't see that as undermining the logic - unless it is agreed it undermines them both.]

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  15. peterwn (3,164 comments) says:

    I see that HANZ (Hospitality Association of NZ, formerly Hotels Association of NZ) is calling for a ban on supermarkets selling liquor.

    This reminds me of the very cozy arrangement between the temperence unionists and the breweries (who used to own most of the pubs) in the 6 o’clock closing days. Breweries just loved the ’6 o’clock swill’ because they did not have to pay hotel staff right into the evening – they could hire male primary school teachers to man the taps for 2-3 hours after school..

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  16. Viking2 (11,146 comments) says:

    Short memories I suggest.
    Until Mr Erceg inflicted his RTD’s upon the teenagers of NZ we had only minor drinking issues. His mixing alcohol with sweet pop drinks has caused all sorts of problems to be worse than then ever were before. Ask the old policemen or go back and look at papers past and just see if you can find the sort of behavoir that these drinks have induced in the years back in the 50′s 60′s 70′s etc.
    You won’t.
    Even Hulun didn’t get drunk in public places although I think Tim from Invergigle did a bit on beer.

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