Keep it 18 reason #1

Every day for the next couple of weeks I’m going to blog a reason why MPs should not vote to increase the purchase age. It would be wrong on so many levels, I can’t cover it in one post.

The first issue is that youth drinking is dropping, not increasing.

I know this is hard to believe, as the wowsers and the associated media hysteria would have you believe the opposite. But there is numerous research to how this is true.

The Alcohol Liquor Advisory Council do an annual Alcohol Monitor survey of adults and youth, through Research New Zealand. The latest survey is here, for 2010.

In 2006, 53% of youth (aged 12 to 17) were drinkers. In 2010 this had dropped to 32%. That is a massive 40% drop in the prevalence rate for youth drinking. The prevalance of young binge drinkers has also dropped from 21% to 15%. Note though the definition of a binge drinker changed from five or more drinks on any ocassion in last two weeks, to five or more drinks the last time they drank.

Note that in 1997, before the purchase age went up, only 20% of 14 to 18 year olds were non-drinkers. While not the same age range, 68% of 12 to 17 year olds are non-drinkers in 2010. It is impossible to conclude that there is more youth drinking than when the purchase age was 20, and in fact strong evidence that there has been a relative 40% decline in the last four years.

But that is not the only survey. Auckland University’s Adolescent Health Research Group did a survey of around 10,000 secondary school students in 2000 and again in 2007.  Their reports are here. The prevalance of secondary school students who have drunk alcohol in 2000 and 2007 they found to be:

  • Ever drunk alcohol – 82% dropping to 72%
  • Currently drink alcohol – 70% dropping to 61%
  • 13 year olds who have ever drunk – 66% dropping to 51%
  • 14 year olds – 79% dropping to 63%
  • 15 year olds – 88% dropping to 76%
  • 16 year olds – 90% dropping to 83%
  • 17 year olds – 90% dropping to 85%
  • alcohol supplied by an adult not their parents – 25% dropping to 20%
  • have been in a car with a driver who has had 2 or more glasses of alcohol – 29% dropping to 24%

So that is two independent surveys which show secondary school drinking has dropped between 2000 and 2007, and youth drinking has dropped from 2006 to 2010.  I suspect many MPs do not know this. The media have not reported it. But these are the results of research commissioned by ALAC and Auckland University’s Adolescent Health Research Group.

There is a third piece of useful research – this one reported by the NZ Herald:

Police figures released to the Herald show a dramatic drop in the number of under-17s caught drink-driving, from 630 in 2007 to 305 last year.

That is excellent. It shows laws and policies are working.

This is not to say that there are no issues around youth drinking in New Zealand. Of course there are. Just as there are issues around adult drinking. And many of the provisions in the Alcohol Reform Bill target them. But the often cited reasons for increasing the purchase age (especially at off-licenses) has been that it has led to more young people drinking alcohol.

Quite simply this is false. There is absolutely no evidence that the number of young people drinking today is greater than before 1999, and in fact very clear evidence that the number of young people drinking has been declining since 2000.

The issues around binge drinking by some youth will never be solved or even helped by trying to restrict supply to 18 and 19 year olds. If supply was the issue, then there would be more young people drinking – not less. The issue is the culture and supervison.

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