Wrong to say alcohol causes cancer

July 26th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dr Samir Zakhari of the US Distill Spirits Council writes in Stuff:

Cancer is not an easy topic.  Most of us will know someone who has been affected by this terrible disease in its many forms.

And as a society we are desperately seeking both the cause and the cure for cancers with great advancements being made on both counts.  But as our knowledge advances one thing is clear – to say that one thing causes cancer is simply wrong.

Unfortunately last month in Wellington a group of academics made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that alcohol causes cancer which is simply incorrect and not supported by any credible research .

The reality is excessive use of alcohol can be one of many factors, but that is not the same as saying “causes”:

Cancers are caused by many things. The key to managing the risk of getting cancer is knowing what those factors are and trying to manage exposure to them. And yes, immoderate consumption of alcohol over an extended period of time does increase your risk of getting some cancers – as does lack of exercise, diet, genetics, age, gender, smoking, drug use and a range of other lifestyle-related factors.

Alcohol is not the same as tobacco. Tobacco is harmful to you full stop. Alcohol is fine in moderation.

Globally there is recognition that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle.  There are many well-documented health benefits associated with moderate consumption – particularly in later life and associated with cardio-vascular function.

The key to this statement is the word ‘moderate’.

The New Zealand Government’s Health Promotion Agency recommends that, to reduce the long-term health impacts associated with alcohol, women should have no more than two standard drinks a day and men no more than three with both sexes having at least two non-drinking days a week.

Again, moderation.

Dr Zakhari’s background:

Dr Samir Zakhari is a researcher on the medical effects of alcohol consumption, and a former director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects with the American National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He is now senior vice president of science at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

UPDATE: The article in Stuff was edited from the original submitted, which made it less clear. The paragraph that was submitted is:

Unfortunately this week in Wellington a group of well-intentioned researchers made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that moderate alcohol consumption causes cancer.  While chronic abusive alcohol consumption is associated with a plethora of health problems including cancer, attributing cancer to social moderate drinking is simply incorrect and is not supported by the body of scientific literature.

So chronic alcohol consumption is a factor, but moderate consumption is not.

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Not an alarmingly high rate

July 8th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald headline:

Drinking during pregnancy occuring at ‘alarmingly high rate’

So what is this alarmingly high rate?

Up to 80 per cent of women in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Ireland have admitted drinking alcohol during the early stages of pregnancy, according to a new report.

Well if 80% of women were drinking during pregnancy that would be alarmingly high. But not the weasel word of up to.

The prevalence of drinking ranged from 20 per cent to 80 per cent of women in Ireland and between 40 per cent and 80 per cent in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Now it is from 40% to 80%. There is just one prevalence rate for NZ, so why not just give it?

Professor Lesley McCowan, the head of Auckland University’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology, who contributed to the study, said 23 per cent of participants reported being alcohol-free when they became pregnant.

“Of the 53 per cent (1063) women who reported that they drank any alcohol in the first trimester, 917 (86 per cent) stopped drinking by six weeks of pregnancy. Stopping drinking is likely to have corresponded with having a positive pregnancy test. So the large majority of these Auckland women are likely to have stopped drinking as soon as pregnancy was diagnosed.

Now we get to the actual data. It is that once a woman knew she was pregnant only 14% of the 53% still drank. That is a 7.4% rate – not alarmingly high I’d say.

“12 per cent of women reported that they were still drinking alcohol when seen by the SCOPE research team at 20 weeks of pregnancy and 95 per cent of these women were only having 1 to 2 units of alcohol weekly at this time.

So 0.6% were drinking in an excessive way.

Obviously the ideal rates are 0%, but the actual data is very different to the sensationalist headlines and claims.

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Is Cheeky cheap?

July 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Eden Park group is urging Justice Minister Amy Adams to ban palm-sized alcohol sachets, which are being found scattered around the stadium grounds after big games.

An Auckland councillor representing the Eden Park Community Liaison Group is particularly worried that the sachets can be easily smuggled into events with booze restrictions, adding to the country’s already high rate of alcohol harm.

Despite widespread concern that came with their entrance into the market in 2013 – and police dismay at the time – the sachets are still available at some bottle stores for less than $2 each.

Councillor Cathy Casey, a member of the liaison group, said Eden Park management was worried at how many were being taken into the grounds at big events, despite liquor licences banning people bringing their own alcohol.

In light of the complaints, she bought some of the 25ml sachets and was alarmed to find that Cheeky products, flavoured in three varieties and containing around 0.4 standard drinks each, carried a relatively high alcohol concentration of 20 per cent.

Dr Casey was further worried that a powdered alcohol product branded as “Palcohol” could also soon be available in New Zealand, after just being approved for sale in the United States. On behalf of the group, she has written to Ms Adams asking her to intervene and ban the importation of alcohol sachets and powder.

 

No the Government should not ban a particular type of alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol and prohibition in the past has been a miserable failure.

Professor Doug Sellman, director of the National Addiction Centre, doubted banning the products would have a big impact on binge drinking but supported the call all the same.

Dr Sellman did not consider their low price a major factor but there was concern the sachets made alcohol more accessible, especially in public places where booze was either banned or restricted.

And people can pour vodka into lemonade. Will we ban vodka?

As for the so called low price, well is $2 for 0.4 of a stand drink cheap? Let’s compare. To have four standard drinks this way would cost you $20.

Four standard drinks is also:

  • 1 litre of 5% beer
  • 350 mls of 14% wine
  • 700 mls of 7% RTD
  • 140 mls of 37.5% spirits

So what is the cost from The Mill for each:

  • 1 litre of 5% beer – $4.40
  • 350 mls of 14% wine – $4.67
  • 700 mls of 7% RTD – $4.82
  • 140 mls of 37.5% spirits – $4.62
  • 250 mls of 20% Cheeky – $20

So these so called low cost Cheeky drinks are not a cheap source of alcohol. They are a massively over-priced rip off. They cost so much the average tight student will never ever get drunk on them. Public health advocates should be promoting them, not trying to ban them!

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Some facts on alcohol

June 23rd, 2015 at 1:31 pm by David Farrar

Eric Barker at Time gives us some facts on alcohol backed up by research:

 

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Public drinking fines fair enough

June 11th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A second police crackdown on drinking in public has resulted in 40 young people being fined $250 each in just three hours.

Wellington police carried out the blitz in the central city, targeting people breaching the liquor ban on Saturday night. 

After an earlier operation two weeks ago, which netted 60 people breaking the bylaw, police publicly warned  they would carry out another on Saturday. Senior Sergeant Steve Dearns, who led both operations, said he was “concerned” so many people were still being caught.

But Victoria University’s students’ association is calling the fines punitive, and says hitting young people in the pocket won’t address the causes of “pre-loading”.

There is no “cause” of pre-loading. It’s simply a decision to but alcohol from off-licenses and drink it before going to an on-license.

If they were not being violent or committing vandalis, a warning and tipping out the booze would be fairer, association president Rick Zwaan said. “This $250 fine seems to be a bit punitive.”

I think the idea is that the fine will deter them from doing it in future.

Zwaan said it was no wonder students drank in the streets when alcohol was so expensive in bars, and university hostels set curfews on drinking indoors.  “It’s pretty unaffordable to drink out in the city.” 

Oh cry me a river. First of all it is no hard to drink past the curfew in a hostel, so long as you are not too rowdy. Secondly most students have lots of friends who live in flats. To claim there is no alternative but to drink in the street is crap.

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Quenched

May 21st, 2015 at 2:52 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Run out of alcohol, and don’t fancy driving to get more? A new Wellington delivery service promises to bring it to your door within 45 minutes.

Quenched,  founded by friends David Loveridge, Tom Brown and Anika Rani, officially launched last week – but already it has come under fire for providing an easy way for drunk people to “refuel”.

It’s a lot better option than people driving to the bottle store!

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Stephen Child said he deplored any move that made it easier to access alcohol in a way that could lead to abuse.

All alcohol can lead to abuse, so I presume Dr Child wants all vineyards closed down?

However, Loveridge said Quenched aimed to provide a convenient and fast service, not to encourage irresponsible drinking.

“Everything is legal, and we definitely don’t want to encourage bad drinking.”

The delivery team checked buyers’ identities on arrival, and would only hand over the order to the person who made it, he said.

If the clients were underage or intoxicated, the order would not be delivered. Instead, the customers would received a full refund, but be charged a $20 callout fee.

Sounds responsible.

“It’s been quite good. We’ve been run off our feet, which is fantastic.”

The idea to start up an alcohol delivery business started with a run and ended with a beer.

“My mate Tom and I went for a long run and we were pretty knackered when we got home, so we got a couple of stubbies but before we had showers we wanted another one, but we didn’t have any left.

“And we couldn’t walk because we were sore from the run. We needed a solution to that problem, and that is what we did.”

I think it could prove very popular. Yes there will be some who will drink to excess (and do so regardless of this service) but for many it will just be an extra convenience, and reduce the temptation for someone to drink drive.

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Wowsers don’t give up

May 20th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand’s top medical body had called for a clampdown on our rampant boozing, including banning advertising, raising the drinking age, and increasing taxes.

In a “briefing” published on Tuesday, the New Zealand Medical Association says the Government needs to intervene more heavily in the liquor industry for the nation’s collective health.

“We consider it vital to ensure that policies to reduce alcohol-related harm are based on the best available evidence, not on ideology or on the basis of lobbying by vested commercial interests.”

I agree. Ideology does get in the way of evidence. Let’s look at the evidence:

There is of course still significant harm caused by alcohol abuse, just as there is also significant pleasure caused by non abusive consumption of alcohol. What is clear in numerous indicators is the trend is positive. That is not industry research, but data from Stats NZ, the Ministry of Health and ALAC.

But the health activists ignore it, because it is an inconvenient fact.

The association said the liberalisation of drinking laws in 1989, combined with increasingly sophisticated liquor marketing, had encouraged a culture of heavy drinking, which had “resulted in what some researchers term an ‘alcogenic’ environment”.

Actually the WHO has found there has been a reduction in drinking habits in the last 30 years.

Raising the legal alcohol purchasing age, for both on and off-licences, to 20

Parliament has voted four times on this issue in 12 years. Each time it has been for 18, not 20. You’re beating a dead horse.

 

 

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Calorie labels for alcohol

May 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The fashion for large wine glasses has fueled a rise in the number of “invisible” calories people are inadvertently consuming through alcohol, the chair of the Royal Society for Public Health has warned. …

The European Union is considering whether to remove the exemption for alcohol and was due to report back in December, but has so far not ruled on the issue. A recent survey found that 80 per cent of the 2,117 adults questioned did not know the calorie content of common drinks, and most were completely unaware that alcohol contributed to the total calories that they consumed.

Most respondents were in favour of calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks.

The US Food and Drug Administration has mandated calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks from December 2015 in US restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets.

It seems strange to have calorie labelling on food and non alcoholic drinks, but not on alcoholic drinks.

I’m in favour of treating alcoholic drinks the same as non-alcoholic drinks, and mandating they should have calorie information.

For those interested the calorie counts for some common alcohol is:

  • half bottle of wine – 350 calories
  • Six pack of beer – 900 calories
  • hip flask of vodka – 820 calories
  • 4 RTDs – 920 calories
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Parent convicted under new alcohol law

May 1st, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The mother of a 14-year-old girl hosted alcohol-fuelled parties for her daughter’s friends that ended with under-age teens vomiting and passed out.

Bronwyn Tracey Saunders, 46, supplied alcohol to several teenagers her daughter invited to two parties held at their house late last year.

She was convicted and fined $2000 in the Christchurch District Court this month on six charges of supplying alcohol to minors after parents of the teenagers she bought alcohol for complained to police.

It is the first conviction for supplying alcohol to minors in Canterbury under new liquor laws that came into effect in December 2013. …

Saunders hosted two parties at her house attended by 20 to 30 of her daughter’s friends and on both occasions accepted money from teenagers to buy them alcohol.

In November, her daughter set up a “Year 9 drinks” Facebook group chat and told her friends if any of them wanted alcohol, they needed to give her money and she would pass it on to her mother to buy it.

Saunders’ daughter then met three of her male friends at Christchurch Boys’ High School where they gave her money. Saunders gave them beer and cider at the party the next day.

According to police, several children at the party, including her daughter, were so intoxicated they were vomiting.

That’s appalling parenting – both buying alcohol for all your children’s friends without their parents consent, but also hosting parties where 14 year olds are passing out and vomiting.

Good parents often will allow their children to drink alcohol – in moderation and with supervision. But buying unlimited alcohol for 14 year olds and allowing them to drink themselves unconscious is awful. I’m glad the new law now allows a prosecution.

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Some sense from the Government on alcohol

April 22nd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

John Key says he would be “extremely surprised” if a far-reaching ban on alcohol sponsorship and advertising went ahead. 

A ministerial forum on alcohol advertising and sponsorship has put forward a raft of recommendations – including a ban on alcohol companies sponsoring sports teams and events.

Organisers of major Marlborough events that rely on sponsorship from the wine industry, including the Forrest GrapeRide and Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon, have said their future would be threatened if the recommendations were implemented. 

That would be a great outcome – a huge drop in the number of sporting events in NZ.

In response to a question by Kent Winstanley during a meeting of young professionals in Blenheim on Friday, Key said the proposal was at an early stage.

“I’d be extremely surprised if it progresses very far.

“We could turn around tomorrow and say it’s illegal for wineries to sponsor the local rugby team and things like that … .

“The problem you’ve got is, where is the money going to come from for those organisations?” 

It was “nonsense” to say that government would help to make up the shortfall, Key said. 

“The government makes that case all the time and it doesn’t happen.” 

As well as removing alcohol sponsorship from sports, the recommendations call for alcohol sponsorship to be removed from cultural and music events where at least 10 per cent of those taking part are under 18. 

Alcohol advertising would be banned, including on social media, where 10 per cent or more of the audience are aged under 18. 

Key questioned how effective the measures would be.

“Does it really impact that much at the margins in terms of people drinking responsibly?

Great to hear the PM so skeptical. We don’t want a wowser Government.

“I think there’s a strong argument for us to continue to educate youngsters about drinking responsibly, but ultimately the fact that Villa Maria might want to be getting its brand name out there, or Cloudy Bay, or whoever – well good on them.

“I’m going to be pretty opposed to dramatic changes there.” 

Again, good to hear.

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Pay off your student loan at the pub

April 12th, 2015 at 9:39 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A controversial loyalty card has been launched that offers to pay a chunk of a student’s bar tab off their student loan.

The Feejoa card sees promoters pay up to 5 per cent of the amount users spend at participating businesses off their student loans. The more they spend, the more is paid off the loan.

Anyone can use the card and those without student loans can donate the discount to someone with one.

Eight bars and the Warehouse Stationery chain have signed up to the scheme and promoters want to expand to other retailers in a bid to help pay off student loans.

The person who came up with this idea is an evil genius. Pay off your student loan by going to the pub. The more you drink, the more you pay off!!

Of course it ignores the opportunity cost – that if you don’t go to the pub at all, you can pay your loan off faster. But why would you? There’s no interest on it.

I can see students and graduates flocking to this.

Community Alcohol and Drug Services regional manager Robert Steenhuisen said the card was “an incentive to consume more”, which went against public health initiatives aiming for moderate drinking.

Yeah students are already known for their modest drinking habits.

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Penalising shoppers

March 23rd, 2015 at 10:32 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aucklanders wanting an alcoholic nightcap will have to stock up earlier or go clubbing if a recommendation for supermarkets and bottle stores to stop selling liquor at 9pm wins council approval.

A council hearings panel is recommending that the closing time for off-licence alcohol sales be brought forward by two hours from 11pm – and trading not start again until 9am the next day.

That compares with an existing national “default” opening time of 7am, which Retail NZ and its supermarket members have been lobbying hard to retain.

 

This is an incredibly stupid decision, if they make it.

The vast majority of people in supermarkets buying alcohol before 9 am or after 9 pm are not buying it to consumer that night. They’re mums and dads or shift workers who don’t have time to do shop during the day, so are doing their weekly shopping early in the morning or late evening, and are just buying some wine or beer for consumption at a later time.

This proposed change will massively inconvenience those families, and have almost no impact on alcohol related harm. Those wanting alcohol that night will simply buy it before 9 pm.

And what harm are they trying to solve by not allowing wine sales in supermarkets at 8.00 am?

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Nine litres of wine???

March 22nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A teenager who police said drank nine litres of wine was drinking at home before being found unconscious at a South Auckland mall last night.

I doubt that greatly. I can’t imagine anyone could drink nine litres of wine in a sitting.

That’s 12 bottles of 9,000 mls. Assume 14% alcohol content and multiply by 0.78 for density and that is around one litre of pure enthanol.

If the teenager weighed 80 kgs then a lethal dose is 300 to 500 mls of alcohol. A litre would almost beyond doubt be fatal.

So I think there is a large degree of exaggeration in the claim.

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Pregnant woman refused a glass of wine

March 19th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A heavily pregnant woman is flabbergasted at being refused a single glass of sparkling wine on her wedding anniversary last night at an Auckland restaurant.

Nichola Hayes and her husband Michael were looking forward to a rare night out just weeks before she is due to give birth to the couple’s second child.

They chose Mac’s Brewbar at the Nuffield Street Trading Company in Newmarket where Mrs Hayes asked for a glass of wine with pizza while her husband opted for beer.

But Mrs Hayes was “completely flabbergasted and embarrassed” when a waitress denied her service on the basis of her pregnancy.

A bar has a right to decide who they serve alcohol to. And a customer has a right to not go to a bar that will try and make decisions on their behalf.

It does seem the bar staff were overly zealous. While no level of alcohol is entirely safe, a single wine is unlikely to have an impact. The question is whether the decision should be the mother’s, or the bar staff.

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Big drop in alcohol available for consumption

February 27th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The latest data from Stats NZ is interesting.

  • Volume of alcoholic drinks available for consumption down 10 million litres or 2%
  • Beer volume down 6.5 million litres
  • RTDs down 4.5 million litres or 7%
  • The amount of pure alcohol per adult has dropped from 9.6 litres in 2010 to 9.1 litres in 2014

So again the moral panic over how we’re drinking and abusing more alcohol is not supported by the data.

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Latest alcohol use research

February 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Ministry of Health has released its survey of alcohol use in 2012/13. Now bear in mind we’ve had years of people claiming that things are getting worse in NZ and we need to ban some alcoholic products, ban advertising, ban sponsorship, close bars earlier and make it harder to buy a bottle of wine at the supermarket.

So what does this research find has been the trend in the last five years (since 2007/08):

  • A 3% drop from 85% to 82% in the number of adults who drink
  • A 2% drop from 32% to 30% in the number of adults who say they drank before age 15
  • A 22% drop in spirits consumers from 49% of adults to 27%
  • A 17% drop in wine consumers from 69% of adults to 52%
  • A 7% drop in beer consumers from 66% to 59%
  • A 5% drop in RTD consumers from 22% to 17%
  • A trend of more moderate drinking with high frequency down from 29% to 28% and low frequency up from 39% to 42%
  • A drop in those getting intoxicated from 59% to 57%
  • A drop in alcohol caused self harm from 5.5% to 4.1%
  • A drop in alcohol adversely affecting home life from 8.5% to 6.1%

There is of course still significant harm caused by alcohol abuse, just as there is also significant pleasure caused by non abusive consumption of alcohol. What is clear is numerous indicators is the trend is positive.

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Drink walking also dangerous

February 2nd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A third of New Zealand pedestrians killed on the roads in the five years to 2013 were drunk, a new report says.

Ministry of Transport data on pedestrian crashes with vehicles between 2009 and 2013 showed the leading cause of pedestrian-fault crashes was “visible intoxication”, followed by “crossing heedless of traffic”.

In 49 fatalities the pedestrian was intoxicated, representing 30 per cent of all pedestrian fatalities.

How long until the Government makes it an offence to walk and be over a certain alcohol limit?

Meg Christie, convener of pedestrian advocacy group Living Streets Otautahi, said new liquor laws, including the drink driving limit falling from 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath to 250mcg, meant “vulnerable” people were walking.

“People are leaving the car at home, which is great, but means they are travelling in a vulnerable state to the bus stop or on the way home,” she said.

I guess drunk walking only endangers themselves, unlike drunk driving which endangers others.

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Dom Post opposes alcohol sponsorship ban

December 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Public health researchers use tobacco as a model for alcohol reform. But the comparison is not fair. Alcohol in small amounts is healthy. For most people, it is not especially addictive. There is no similar risk that a few drinks at a young age mean a lifetime chained to the habit.

That is the key difference.

An advertising ban is a heavy-handed move that would cut off a major funding stream for sports teams and suppress diversity in a market that has shown plenty of it recently. (Consider the craft beer explosion, not exactly associated with problem drinking.)

You ban advertising and sponsorship, and you effectively ban new products.

To the extent that regulations can help, they should be carefully targeted at drunkenness and young people. Banning obscene boozing competitions, as the Government did in 2012, justified itself. Curtailing bar hours, as the police are pushing for in Wellington, also has merit. Scrubbing sponsors’ logos from games mostly watched by adults seems like overdoing it.

May the Government drown the report in a vat of craft beer.

The Press and Herald editorials are also sceptical or hostile to the recommendations.

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Alcohol Sponsorship and Advertising Recommendations

December 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Ministerial Forum on Alcohol and Advertising and Sponsorship has made 14 recommendations to the Government:

  1. Ban alcohol sponsorship of all streamed and broadcast sports
  2. Ban alcohol sponsorship of sports [long-term]
  3. Ban alcohol sponsorship (naming rights) at all venues
  4. Ban alcohol sponsorship of cultural and music events where 10% or more of participants and
    audiences are younger than 18
  5. Introduce a sponsorship replacement funding programme
  6. Introduce a targeted programme to reduce reliance on alcohol sponsorship funding
  7. Ban alcohol advertising during streamed and broadcast sporting events
  8. Ban alcohol advertising where 10% or more of the audience is younger than 18
  9. Further restrict the hours for alcohol advertising on broadcast media
  10. Continue to offset remaining alcohol advertising by funding positive messaging across all media
  11. Introduce additional restrictions on external advertising on licensed venues and outlets
  12. Establish an independent authority to monitor and initiate complaints about alcohol advertising and
    sponsorship
  13. Establish a mechanism to identify and act on serious or persistent breaches of advertising standards
  14. Establish a multi-stakeholder committee to periodically review and assess Advertising Standards
    Complaints Board decisions and pre-vetted advertising

Recommendations 1, 2, 3 and 7 would basically cripple most sports in NZ.

Recommendations 4 and 8 may have merit, as alcohol should not be promoted to under 18s

Recommendations 5, 6 and 10 means increases taxes and have taxes spent on sponsoring sports

Recommendation 9 could also have merit, in that advertising should occur later at night

Recommendation 11 could mean anything

Recommendations 12 to 14 look like the Government establishing its own advertising regulator, effectively abolishing the self-regulatory model.

All in all pretty depressing. On a related note, an article from Patrick Basham on plain packaging:

Two years after its implementation, plain packaging’s impact upon smoking and the illicit cigarette trade remains the subject of vigorous debate. No longer debatable, however, is plain packaging’s negative affect upon the alcohol industry and other non-tobacco sectors of the Australian economy.

The unintended effects of plain packaging have the potential to vastly outweigh the legislation’s intended public health benefits, real or imagined. In fact, Australia’s imposition of plain packaging on tobacco opened a Pandora’s Box of potential trade costs with the nation’s alcohol sector set to become the first example of the policy’s collateral damage.

Indonesian farmers recently rallied in front of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in support of their government’s targeting of Australian alcohol. The Indonesian trade ministry is preparing to mandate the plain packaging of alcohol products, including Australian wine, with the respective labelling devoted to warnings of the adverse health consequences associated with alcohol consumption.

Providing political support for these plans are Indonesian business lobbyists seeking to protect their domestic market from foreign competition, as well as global and domestic public health NGOs who support plain packaging on all manner of ‘unhealthy’ consumer products, including alcohol and tobacco.

Such support would not have mattered to the Indonesian government if Australia had not opted for plain packaging in late 2011. But, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government could not resist the temptation to become the global ‘leader’ in tobacco control policy. Consequently, Australia is now embroiled in a messy trade dispute that may spill over into a costly trade war.

Eventually the demand for plain packaging will extend to drinks and to food. It’s a bad precedent.

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Let’s ban bottle openers!

September 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Christ’s College is perpetuating New Zealand’s heavy drinking culture by giving senior pupils a bottle-opener keyring at the school ball, an alcohol reform campaigner says.

The keyring, inscribed with “CC Ball 2014″, was given to the boys, mostly aged 17 or 18, at the ball on Saturday night. Girls were given lip balm.

National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman said the school was facilitating “the normalisation and glamourisation of heavy drinking” by presenting a collectable bottle opener.

“For the bottle opener to also be a keyring, which directly promotes a permissive attitude towards drink driving, raises the stakes of inappropriateness to top-shelf,” he said.

Christ’s College headmaster Simon Leese defended the gift, saying it was “almost laughable” someone would make an issue of it.

“Anybody can go into Briscoes, and anywhere else, and buy a bottle opener at any age. Frankly, this is a nonsense line of inquiry.”

I agree. I also point out that youth drinking rates have been falling for many years.

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I’m fine with Police being undercover in bars

August 27th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Undercover police officers drank in Dunedin bars as part of an operation targeting liquor licensing offences.

While police said the inaugural operation was a success — with most bars found compliant — the Hospitality Association slammed the move as “creepy”.

Two Central Otago-based police officers — in their mid-20s — visited city bars on Saturday night to check compliance with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. …

The undercover officers visited six bars in total, with some bars visited twice.

He confirmed those officers were allowed to drink while on duty.

“There is case law that backs up if someone is in a licensed premises, then one drink an hour is appropriate … otherwise you would stand out.”

The behaviour of licensees and staff was largely found to be compliant. One Octagon bar was given a written warning, after serving alcohol to an intoxicated patron at 3.40am on Sunday.

I’m fine with this. Bars shouldn’t serve people who are clearly intoxicated. The only reliable way to check on this is with undercover officers, so I have no problems with this.

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Is Labour going to whack up alcohol price and the purchase age?

August 14th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour’s policy says:

implementing the recommendations from the Law Commission Report on Alcohol

The Law Commission recommended

  • Increasing the purchase age to 20
  • A 50% increase in the excise tax on alcohol

So one can only presume that Labour is committed to moving the purchase age back to 20, and to a 50% tax hike on beer, wine and spirits. I thought this deserved some publicity.

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Party Police want no new bars in Auckland for six years!

August 1st, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I hate that the Police have become the wowsers of New Zealand. Well, not quite. They all enjoy a drink themselves, but advocate nanny state for everyone else.

Radio NZ reports:

The police are proposing a six-year ban on any new bars and bottle stores in central Auckland and other regional hot-spots.

Why not just go back to prohibition also.

As a minimum, police want a freeze on the number of liquor licences in some areas. But they would rather have a sinking lid policy, under which no new licences are given even if other bars or shops close down.

Which will probably just lead to more drinking in cars, parks and homes.

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The benefits of booze

July 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Heath writes in the NZ Herald:

A terrible injustice has befallen commercial radio. A change in the law has stopped us giving away alcohol on air.

Campaigners have convinced the Government that a sniff of free booze will instantly turn Kiwis into alcoholics and criminals. I’m not so sure.

Like most Kiwis I enjoy a drink. In fact, I love a drink. I’m having a beer as I write this. But I am not an alcoholic and I don’t have a drinking problem. My drinking is more like a hobby. Sadly, like all pastimes, work and family commitments keep me away from it. …

Anti-alcohol campaigners turn a blind eye to the good booze does in the community. You only have to go to a restaurant to hear the happiness it brings. People laughing and enjoying each other’s company. You can’t put these good people in the same boat as a bastard who beats his family.

Indeed they do often overlook the immense enjoyment most adults get from alcohol.

Campaigners use the terribly behaved to beat up on the slightly naughty. They use the sick to hassle the healthy; their bad experiences to limit the good experiences of others. If the alcohol debate was a weather report then light breezes would be the same as hurricanes, spring showers would become weather bombs and Jim Hickey would lose his job.

The reality is there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting sauced. No crime in catching a taxi home because you’ve had too many. Nearly every newsreader, reporter, politician and police officer has.

There is no shame in drinking, dancing, singing and enjoying the company of other humans.

Sure you could do all those things without alcohol. But thankfully we live in a country where we don’t have to.

Well not yet, but the wowsers are doing their best.

The only thing I would change is to have an app on your smartphone that won’t allow you to text or call people if your breath alcohol is over a certain level. That would have saved me a lot of grief in the last month!

But what of the social cost? Domestic violence, drunk drivers, burglary, assault, couch burning and firetrucking. I’m not doing any of those things. I bet you aren’t either.

I might slur “you’re my best mate” and turn the music up till it distorts. But I never stab people or rob their houses. Bad behaviour is a dickhead problem not a booze problem.

Let’s celebrate the good alcohol does in the community. The new guy who becomes fast friends over work drinks. The shy couple who gain the courage to talk to each other for the first time. The diplomats who seal a deal for the country at the bar after a conference. The victorious sports team singing the national anthem after everyone has gone home.

Celebrating booze – I love it.

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An alcohol report that got little publicity

May 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The World Health Organisation has just released its 2014 report on alcohol and health. It seems to have had almost no publicity here – possibly because it doesn’t support the claims of certain groups that NZ alcohol stats are really bad on a world scale. Some extracts you may not see elsewhere:

  • Far from there being a catastrophic rise in alcohol abuse in New Zealand there has been a real reduction in drinking habits in the last 30 years.   There was a sharp increase in total alcohol consumption per capita from 1970 through the early 1980s, then a sharp drop from 1985 through the late 1990s, and a slight upward trend since then.  So things are not worse than they have ever been…in fact they are a lot better.
  • The amount consumed per drinker, New Zealand ranks around 96th (13.7 litres of pure alcohol per capita).  This ranks us slightly higher than France (at 12.9 litres) and slightly lower than the UK (at 13.8 litres).  So on average, we are a nation of fairly moderate drinkers.
  • We are constantly told that we have a “binge drinking” culture in New Zealand, but our rates of prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (classified as more than 6 standard drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days) is actually very low by global standards.  The prevalence rate of heavy drinking for New Zealand was 5.6%.  This is more than half that of Australia (13.6%), more than a quarter that of Canada (23.1%), and more than a sixth that of the United Kingdom (33.4%). So when you hear the claim we have 800,000 hazardous drinkers, it is quite a gross exaggeration (as the scare mongers here use a different definition).

Of course there are problems caused by alcohol abuse in New Zealand, and these should be mitigated if it can be done in a way where the benefits exceed the costs. But the narrative that NZ has an awful drinking problem, and it is much worse than in the past – is not true.

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