10 reasons why making it illegal for 18 and 19 year olds to purchase alcohol is the wrong thing to do

August 28th, 2012 at 8:01 am by David Farrar

1 – A split age will encourage more supply to minors

One of the most important changes proposed in the Reform Act is to make it an offence to supply to minors without parental permission. I support this new law, as a major flaw in the current law is that (for example) it is currently legal for any adult to supply beer, wine or even spirits to a 14 year old.

I believe we need both a law change and a culture change where it is illegal and “uncool” to supply alcohol without parental permission to those not able to legally purchase it for themselves – just as over the past few decades it has become “uncool” to drink and drive.

But increasing the purchase age to 20 for off licenses, will work against achieving a culture of not supplying alcohol to those who can not purchase alcohol for themselves. 18 and 19 year olds are legally not minors and hence the new law making it an offence to supply alcohol to minors without parental consent will not apply to them. What this means is that it will be legal for a 20 year old to supply alcohol to a 19 year old (who can not legally purchase it), but illegal to supply it to an 17 year old. This will be confusing and work against achieving a culture where no one supplies alcohol to those unable to purchase it for themselves, without parental consent.

The only way to achieve a culture of non-supply is to have the purchase age the same as the age at which a minor becomes an adult – which is 18. That will be consistent and maximise the chance of the new non-supply law being respected. A purchase age of 20 will encourage a culture of supplying to those under the purchase age. This works directly against the other reforms in the Alcohol Reform Bill to prevent supply to minors.

2 – Fewer youth are drinking now than when the purchase age was 20

ALAC’s annual alcohol monitor survey shows that in 1997 80% of 14 to 18 year olds were drinkers. The latest 2010 survey shows only 32% of 12 to 17 year olds are drinkers. This is a massive drop.

The age ranges have not been entirely consistent over the years, but a breakdown of the 2010 research shows that only 53% of 15 to 17 year olds are drinkers – still a massive reduction from 80% in 1997.

The prevalence of youth drinking is dropping, not increasing. In 2006 ALAC research found 53% of 12 to 17 year olds were drinkers, and amongst the same age group it is 32% in 2010. That is a relative 40% drop in the youth drinking prevalence rate since 2006.

Many people have said that the drop in the purchase age in 1999 has led to more under 18 year olds drinking. This is clearly false on the ALAC research, and in fact the opposite has happened.

Also the age at which young people start drinking has been increasing. In 2006, 35% of young drinkers started before they turned 14. In 2010, it was just 21%.

The ALAC research 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 drop from 70% to 61%.  Two highly reputable independent pieces of research have both found that fewer young New Zealanders are drinking than in the past.

3 – Most alcohol is supplied by parents or family members

60% of youth moderate and binge drinkers say their last drink was at home, or a relative’s home. Only 27% say they were at a friend’s house. Scapegoating 18 and 19 year olds for allegedly being the source of alcohol to under age drinkers, is not bourne out by the facts.

The Auckland University survey found only 20% of secondary school students had alcohol supplied by an adult  who is not their parents – a drop from 25% in 2000. Blaming adult 18 and 19 year olds on school age students drinking is unfair and untrue.

4 – A split 18/20 age will increase risks for young women

The proposed split age of 18 for off-licenses and 20 for on-licenses (while preferred to a 20/20 age) will push 18 and 19 year olds who wish to have a drink to go into town, rather than have a drink at home. Far more violence and crime occurs in town, than at people’s homes. 18 and 19 year old women especially will be at risk of greater sexual assaults, if they are prevented from being able to legally purchase alcohol to drink in the safety of their own home.

5 – 18 is the age of majority

18 and 19 year old men and women are required to register on the electoral roll, and can stand for election to Parliament or local authorities.

The MP for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross, was elected to the Manukau City Council at the age of 18. He did a sufficiently good job to be re-elected in 2007, and then elected to the new Auckland Council in 2010, and to the House of Representatives in 2011.

It seems absurd that a young adult such as Jami-Lee could serve on the Manukau City Council, actually help determine and vote on local alcohol policies for the city, yet be legislatively banned from being able to buy a bottle of wine at a supermarket on the way home from a Council meeting.

Can an MP justify voting in favour on Wednesday in favour of 16 year old gay and lesbian couples being able to get married at 16, yet vote on Thursday against them being able to purchase alcohol until they are 20?

6 – Increasing the purchase age will encourage disrespect for the law

It is naïve to think that 18 and 19 year olds who are working or studying will not purchase or acquire alcohol. Of course they will. In fact it will be legal for others to acquire it for them, which will make the law somewhat farcical. Under the split age proposal, it will be illegal to sell alcohol to an 18 or 19 year old, but legal to supply it to them for free!

Laws which are widely broken or worked around, lower overall respect for the law. The United States has a higher purchase age than New Zealand, and this law is so widely broken that even Jenna and Barbara Bush broke the law – despite their father being President of the United States.

7 – There is no evidence that a split age will work

Even the groups that support increasing the purchase age to 20 say that there is no evidence that a split age will work in reducing alcohol related harm. It will simply send a confusing mixed message about whether or not 18 and 19 year olds can purchase alcohol.

No other country in the world has a split purchase age, It is an untested experiment, with no scientific basis to it. It sends out a contradictory message on the appropriate age to purchase alcohol.

8 – A split age will discriminate against rural areas

Banning 18 and 19 year olds from being able to purchase alcohol in off-licenses will have a greater impact on those in rural areas. On-licenses are common in urban areas, but many of those who live in rural areas do not have a nearby on-license. Hence this means that an effective different purchase age will apply in urban and rural New Zealand.

9 – It’s about the culture

An increase in the purchase age does nothing to address the real issue of the New Zealand drinking culture. You can’t get a change in the culture by making it illegal for a 19 year old to buy a bottle of wine. The culture change comes about by engaging with drinkers, and making unsafe drinking behaviour unattractive.

Professor Doug Sellman was quoted in this week’s Sunday Star-Times as saying “The fact is that less than 10 per cent of the 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand are under 20″.  Alcohol issues in New Zealand need a culture change across the board. Scapegoating 18 and 19 year olds for the problems caused by heavy drinkers is unfair – especially as fewer than 10% of the heavy drinkers are youth.

10 –

Youth drink driving has been dropping massively in the last few years. It dropped by just over 50% from 2007 to 2011 amongst under 17 year olds, and in the last year dropped 52% amongst all teenagers.

The split age proposal may encourage more drink driving amongst teenagers. 18 and 19 year olds will not be able to purchase alcohol to drink at home. They will only be able to purchase alcohol by going into an on-license. This is highly likely to lead to more teenagers then driving home after they have been drinking – especially in more rural areas.

Please do the right thing and vote to keep the purchase age at 18.

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24 Responses to “10 reasons why making it illegal for 18 and 19 year olds to purchase alcohol is the wrong thing to do”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Scapegoating 18 and 19 year olds for the problems caused by heavy drinkers is unfair – especially as fewer than 10% of the heavy drinkers are youth.

    What percentage of drinkers are under 20? Because I’d have that well under 10%, which would suggest – if my assumption is well-placed – that heavy youth drinking is a problem when compared to the rest of the population.

    [DPF: The point is that this measure will at best (and it won’t) target under 10% of heavy or problem drinkers, and not touch the 90%+]

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  2. flipper (4,188 comments) says:

    Thanks for all that David. Great summary.

    Now, can the same sense/logic be applied to the gratuitous Wall Bill?

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  3. marynicolehicks (24 comments) says:

    Why not instead allow 18 to 20 year olds to purchase one standard drink with each full dinner meal purchased in a restaurant. That way they would be limited to one drink, but would be greatly encouraged to eat food while drinking? You could even do this for 16 to 18 year olds.

    Stopping people from drinking does not change the culture. You have to teach them how it should be done. The best way to drink is one standard drink with a meal.

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  4. alloytoo (571 comments) says:

    Fiddling with drinking ages is a useless exercise. As we all knew as teens, where there’s a will there’s a way.

    Time to make the consequences of drunk and disorderly harsher.

    Simple really, if you’re picked up for drunk and disorderly, then there is a 48 hour stay in the holding cell.

    If they’re hospitalized then they go straight from the ward to the cell.

    Those that are caught on Friday will find their weekend evaporated in a cell with a hangover.

    Those caught later will face missing school/Uni or even work.

    The smart one’s will figure it out quickly, the rest will never figure it out.

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  5. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    [DPF: The point is that this measure will at best (and it won’t) target under 10% of heavy or problem drinkers, and not touch the 90%+]

    And if it was the only measure, that would be a good point. One assumes a law can achieve its aims by targeting specific measures against different groups according to what might work best for those groups.

    Also, do you rule out the possibility that the disproportionate number of young people who are heavy or problem drinkers may become the people who are problem drinkers at older ages? Maybe if we nip it in the bud, some will never start and therefore never graduate, etc?

    p.s. Keep It 18

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  6. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    I think the acid test is ‘Did we have the same kinds of problems we have now when the drinking age was higher?’

    But then, the existence of ‘hard-core’ older drinkers would indicate that something about that old system was clearly inadequate, – if we are suggesting that we somehow can institute ‘sensible drinking’ as a social phenomenon.

    Let’s not deny this – alcohol is a personality altering drug. That’s why we drink it. So to base an argument on the premise that the sensible use of a personality-altering drug, when consumed by people who have not yet fully formed their personalities is a bit redundant really.

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1424747.htm

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  7. Richard29 (377 comments) says:

    “is not bourne out by the facts.”

    I’m fairly sure that it’s “borne out” when referring to something being supported by the facts.

    I presume “bourne out” is when a CIA special agent announces that he is gay.

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  8. wreck1080 (3,955 comments) says:

    And I completely disagree. The USA have a drinking age of 21 for a reason.

    If anything, I want it lifted to 21.

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  9. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    OK, I’ll swim against the tide – for argument’s sake at least…

    1 – A split age will encourage more supply to minors

    18 and 19 year olds are legally not minors and hence the new law making it an offence to supply alcohol to minors without parental consent will not apply to them. What this means is that it will be legal for a 20 year old to supply alcohol to a 19 year old (who can not legally purchase it), but illegal to supply it to an 17 year old. This will be confusing and work against achieving a culture where no one supplies alcohol to those unable to purchase it for themselves, without parental consent.

    This hole could be easily addressed by amending the provision to apply to all those under the legal age to purchase alcohol at an off-license, solving the specific issue you raise above.

    2 – Fewer youth are drinking now than when the purchase age was 20

    The age ranges have not been entirely consistent over the years, but a breakdown of the 2010 research shows that only 53% of 15 to 17 year olds are drinkers – still a massive reduction from 80% in 1997.

    Well, not quite. What it does not show is how the 1997 stats would change if they excluded 18 year olds (as the 2010 figures did.) I don’t claim to have the figures, but I suggest the gap would narrow significantly.

    Having said that, a drop in this statistic is to be welcomed. I just caution a potential spin that might go along the lines that reducing the purchase age was a causal factor in reducing drinking amongst youth (excepting that 18 year olds are no longer ‘youth’ in the measure.)

    3 – Most alcohol is supplied by parents or family members

    No argument – the parental permission provision will address this, in any event.

    4 – A split 18/20 age will increase risks for young women

    18 and 19 year old women especially will be at risk of greater sexual assaults, if they are prevented from being able to legally purchase alcohol to drink in the safety of their own home.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that, under the current law, 18 & 19 years olds are more likely to pre-load at home on cheap alcohol from an off-license and then go into town already half or fully intoxicated. This behaviour places young woman at risk.

    Given the higher prices of drinks at bars, young woman who are unable to pre-load would be able to consume less alcohol than under the current law. The risk would be reduced (in general), not raised as you suggest.

    5 – 18 is the age of majority

    Can an MP justify voting in favour on Wednesday in favour of 16 year old gay and lesbian couples being able to get married at 16, yet vote on Thursday against them being able to purchase alcohol until they are 20?

    Yes, of course. In fact the example you give reinforces that it is acceptable practise to have different ages for different rights or privileges. You are not arguing that the age of marriage consent be raised to 18. Or that the drinking (purchase) age be reduced to 16. So clearly it is not unacceptable to be able to get married and not be able to purchase alcohol for your own wedding.

    The question of the alcohol purchase age is not related to the age of entitlement for other rights or privileges.

    6 – Increasing the purchase age will encourage disrespect for the law

    It is naïve to think that 18 and 19 year olds who are working or studying will not purchase or acquire alcohol. Of course they will. In fact it will be legal for others to acquire it for them…

    With parental approval, yes (refer change proposed above.)

    7 – There is no evidence that a split age will work

    It sends out a contradictory message on the appropriate age to purchase alcohol.

    I disagree. It is not at all difficult to comprehend, nor is it contradictory – contradictory, by way of example, would be 20 to purchase at an off-license, but 18 to purchase at an on-license and be able to take that alcohol away. Just to be clear, 18 for on-license/20 off-license is as contradictory a message as both on and off license premises being open some hours of the day, but not others. Which is to say it is not.

    As for management of the split age, it is no more difficult than managing the age provision as it stands – the ID must simply establish that the holder is at least 2 years older for off-license purchases.

    8 – A split age will discriminate against rural areas

    On-licenses are common in urban areas, but many of those who live in rural areas do not have a nearby on-license.

    I think you will find that rural off-licenses (particularly with the change to remove sale of liquor at the likes of dairies) are no more common than rural on-licenses; in fact they are generally one and the same as the on-license will have an off-license facility. It will be less common to find a supermarket (or similar) in a town with no pub (which also means off-license.)

    What will actually make a distinction in real availability between urban and rural communities is the restriction on what sort of general/convenience store will be able to have an off-license. That is more likely to force rural people to have to travel further.

    9 – It’s about the culture

    An increase in the purchase age does nothing to address the real issue of the New Zealand drinking culture. You can’t get a change in the culture by making it illegal for a 19 year old to buy a bottle of wine.

    Actually I agree on this point. It will do little to impact on binge drinking at all and, at best, will merely send a message that drinking or binge drinking under 20 is unacceptable, but suddenly becomes acceptable enough to not require greater regulation as soon as you are 20 or older.

    Professor Doug Sellman was quoted in this week’s Sunday Star-Times as saying “The fact is that less than 10 per cent of the 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand are under 20″.

    Quite, but what Prof. Sellman [and the likes of ALAC] thinks is “heavy drinking” and what the majority of (responsible) drinkers think is “heavy drinking” are two quite different things I suspect.

    To make any real sense of “heavy drinking” would require far greater detail on drinking habits than something simple like ‘has 4 or more standard drinks on any one day in a week’. One one day, but none on any other day? Every week? Over how many hours? What is the relative strength of each drink? etc…

    Only with real detail (and the above is not even attempting to be comprehensive) could we then look into habits by age and determine whether or not those 70,000 (or so) younger drinkers represented a concern greater than ‘less than 10%’ might imply.

    10 – Drink Driving

    They will only be able to purchase alcohol by going into an on-license. This is highly likely to lead to more teenagers then driving home after they have been drinking – especially in more rural areas.

    No so. For those drinking at home, most already are at their own, or a relative’s home, according to your stats above. The parental permission provision will remove an issue there – the clear inference within your quoted stats was that they were already ‘supervised’ events. As for the 27% at a friend’s house, they too will have no problem as long as there is a supervising adult over 20 and they have parental permission.

    It does not follow that those that choose to drink in bars, rather than in a supervised residential environment, will feel any greater need to have to drive drunk than those who do so today (especially those that, today, pre-load at home and then go into town.)

    As for rural areas, this is a problem that exists today and will not be exacerbated further with a split age. Firstly, the drinking at home/relative’s/friend’s situation above applies. More to the point though, outside of their own home, rural people have the situation whereby drinking anywhere else – the pub or with extended family or friends – already presents the problem of transportation as each of these is both likely to be further away than for urban dwellers and is less likely to be serviced by readily available and affordable public transport. The split age does nothing to exacerbate those distances, nor does it make alternative transport more difficult to find.

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  10. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    I think that was a very good response to a regular ‘carpet-bombing’ of opinion and unsupported premises.

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  11. lcmortensen (38 comments) says:

    The Same Sex Marriage Bill isn’t likely to be read until 19 September now – there’s a local bill committee stage and 3.5 members bill first readings ahead of it on the Order Paper.

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  12. Rightandleft (667 comments) says:

    I grew up in the US system and it just did not work. Everyone flouted the law because they knew it was ridiculous to have the age so high. Even much harsher penalties for drinking underage didn’t work there. In Washington DC a 20 year old found to have any alcohol in their system or even with no alcohol in their system but within arm’s reach of an alcoholic beverage at a party was automatically subject a night in federal prison (DC is a federal district so all crimes are federal). The DC police strictly enforced the drinking age, raiding popular bars near university campuses and carting off van-loads of 18-20 year old adults.

    None of that stopped people drinking at all. My dorm was flowing with booze every weekend even though having campus security or an RA catch you with it meant instant expulsion from campus housing. Everyone knew a 21 year old who would buy the booze, even though supplying alcohol to a minor (someone under 21 in the US) was punishable by months or years in prison depending on the amount. Raising the age and increasing penalties does nothing, education and culture change are what are needed.

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  13. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    I would hazard to guess the reason youth drinking has dropped is because there are no jobs or opportunities.

    The country is absolutely becoming impoverished.

    it’s about time after decades of being told to tighten our belts the electorate was given a break and something really big and amazing happened for this country.

    it won’t happen under establishment govts.

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  14. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    Good post Marynicole….. Alcohol should be considered normal not bingeful

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  15. Cato (1,095 comments) says:

    There’s a factual inaccuracy here. The age of majority in New Zealand is, in fact, 20 years.

    Age of Majority Act 1970:

    4 Age of majority

    (1) For all the purposes of the law of New Zealand a person shall attain full age on attaining the age of 20 years.

    (2) In the absence of a definition or of any indication of a contrary intention, the expressions adult, full age, infant, infancy, minor, minority, full capacity, majority, and similar expressions in any enactment or instrument shall be construed in accordance with subsection (1).

    (3) This section shall not affect any reference in any enactment or instrument to an age expressed in years.

    [DPF: I was using the age of majority in the commonly understood sense of your adult rights to vote etc]

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  16. The Peanut Monster (19 comments) says:

    Completely agree. One only needs to look at the US to see what happens when the drinking age is higher. All it does is stunt the age at which binge drinking occurs. While we (i.e. Nzers) have (hopefully) become productive members of society by age 22, the US drinker has just discovered clubbing… getting into work at 9am not so easy at that age…

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  17. Cato (1,095 comments) says:

    DPF – That’s fine, but don’t say it’s the age of majority – a legal term with a specific, legal meaning. The law regards New Zealanders as minors until they reach the age of 20 years old.

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  18. LabourDoesntWork (291 comments) says:

    Legalise everything. Just make sure whoever engages in it foots the bill, or else their parents if a minor. Problem solved. And get government out of the business of defining marriage.

    Now leave people alone.

    Result: peace and quiet. AHHH-HHH

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  19. LabourDoesntWork (291 comments) says:

    Seriously. I do wonder how popular the “progressive” side of social issues would be if people had to foot their own bill, absent the obvious necessity of government throwing money at all the problems caused. Afterall, the only thing that that creates is even more of the problem – and sanctimonious progressives telling themselves how compassionate they are whilst demonising others.

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  20. BigFish (132 comments) says:

    Some teens want to get high.
    By making relatively safe substances like alcohol and pot illegal, it probably really is easier for them to get high off solvents, petrol, glue, butane or any number of relatively lethal substances.

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  21. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    @BigFish,

    So if they can’t buy alcohol, they’ll sniff glue? Are you auditioning for the creative director role for Tui billboard ads?

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  22. BigFish (132 comments) says:

    @ bhudson,

    Can you stop them doing either? Make the alcohol too difficult to access and they will find alternatives. Or should we pretend there aren’t kids who are huffing?

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  23. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    @BigFish,

    No we should not pretend. But it is a greater pretence to claim they are or will huff based on the availability of RTDs.

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  24. BigFish (132 comments) says:

    @ BHudson,

    I’m taking a broader view than just RTDs. Demonise drink too much and make it too difficult to access and kids will find easier alternatives.

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