Bar closing time

April 4th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Christchurch bars should have a one-way door policy after 1am, with all bars closing by 3am, police say, a day after the city recorded a surge in street-related crime and disorder.

The Christchurch City Council is working on a draft local alcohol policy (LAP) for Christchurch – a provision of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

A preliminary policy was discussed by the planning committee yesterday, with deputations made by the police, medical officer of health, Health Promotion Agency, Hospitality New Zealand, District Licensing Agency, Foodstuffs New Zealand and Progressive Enterprises.

Through the LAP, the council can regulate certain aspects of liquor licensing such as opening hours for licensed premises, controlling the location of licensed premises and making re-entry restrictions to bars early in the morning.

Canterbury district commander, Superintendent Gary Knowles, told the council yesterday the central-city bars should have a one-way door policy after 1am and all bars should shut by 3am.

1 am is way way too early. Hell many people only head into town around midnight.

One way policies may also have unintended consequences. Rather than walk around town and sober up a bit, you’ll stay drinking at the bar you are already at.

Also if a group has split up, it means they can’t reunite.

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No UK minimum alcohol price

March 17th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Sources have confirmed that the Coalition will not attempt to implement the Prime Minister’s plan for a 45p per unit minimum price.

Is that all? Labour MPs here were talking $2 a stand drink minimum price!

Mr Cameron had argued that making drinks more expensive would curb problem drinking, while several ministers argued that the minimum price would only serve to penalise responsible drinkers. The minimum price was also opposed by the Treasury, where officials argued that it would reduce tax revenues at a time when the public finances remain strained.

One Treasury source described the Prime Minister’s plan as “a remarkably stupid idea”.

Government insiders suggested the Chancellor is considering using the Budget to impose higher taxes on some drinks and argue that doing so will address problem drinking.

There is an interesting debate about the merits of minimum pricing vs excise taxes. Our current excise tax regime is lopsided and not all alcohol is taxed at the same rate.

A spokesman for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge drinker.”

Yet it is Labour and Green party policy. Beware.

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The alcohol crisis

February 26th, 2013 at 7:07 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton blogs on the alcohol crisis:

The volume of alcoholic beverage available for consumption in New Zealand fell 3.3 percent in 2012, Statistics New Zealand said today. The decrease was due to a fall in the volume of beer, down 20 million litres. This fall was partly offset by a 4.3 million litre rise in the volume of wine.
“Although the volume of alcoholic beverages available was down more than 3.0 percent, the amount of pure alcohol fell only 0.6 percent,” industry and labour statistics manager Louise Holmes-Oliver said. “This was due to change in the types of beverages available.”
An increase in the volume of higher-alcohol beverages such as wine, spirits, and spirit-based drinks accounts for the smaller fall in pure alcohol available. The volume of high-alcohol beer (over 5.0 percent) also increased. In contrast, all other beer categories available for consumption have decreased.
The volume of pure alcohol available for consumption per person aged 15 years and over fell 1.7 percent, to 9.3 litres in 2012.
But all the public health lobbyists and the Opposition have been claiming we have an alcohol crisis in New Zealand, and the price of alcohol must go up to stop ever-increasing consumption levels.
Since the alcohol laws were liberalised in 1989, the average amount of alcohol available for consumption has dropped by around a litre per capita.
I note the headline in the Dom Post is:
RTD alcohol availability on the rise
This is instead of a headline about alcohol availability drops.
Although the volume of alcohol available for consumption fell 3.3 per cent last year, ready-to-drink (RTD) spirit-based drinks are still on the rise.
By how much?
Latest Statistics New Zealand figures show pre-mixed RTDs were up 78,000 litres, rising 0.1 per cent to 62 million litres.
By 0.1%!! Shock, horror. As the population grew by more than 0.1% it is in fact a per capita decrease.
The overall downturn in alcohol available for consumption was due to a fall in the volume of beer, which dropped 20 million litres, a decline partly offset by a 4.3 million litre rise in the volume of wine.
Yet no headlines about wine consumption. The media often have double standards. Wine consumption is seen as good, RTD consumption as bad. Gambling on Lotto is good and celebrated and gambling on pokies is evil and destructive.
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A total advertising ban!

February 12th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Martin Johnston at NZ Herald reports:

The liquor industry must be shut out of alcohol policy-making and implementation, to prevent manufacturers from undermining efforts to reduce the harms of alcohol, says an international grouping of public health specialists.

I’ve observed there tend to be two types of public health lobbyists. The zealots tend to regard their work as a holy crusade and the industry they specialise in as the enemy. They get focused more on attacking the industry rather than the merits of specific initiatives.

Do not engage commercial or vested interest groups, or their representatives, in discussion on the development of alcohol policy.

yes the zealots think Governments should not even talk to or engage with businesses that will be impacted by Government decisions. They are saying the only people the Government should listen to are themselves. And you know what – I guarantee you they are all being funded by taxpayers so they can lobby Governments with their own money!

The authors of the statement of concern say voluntary codes were often violated and a complete ban on alcohol promotion was preferable.

Nice to have the agenda out there. This means no happy hours, no Tui billboards, no online Wine retailers, no sports sponsorships, no advertising etc.

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The Alcohol Reform Bill

December 12th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Alcohol Reform Bill passed its third reading yesterday. There’s actually a lot of significant changes in it, even though the wowsers are wailing that it doesn’t bring in minimum pricing, so a bottle of wine would cost at least $16.

The SOP by Lianne Dalziel was supported by most of Labour, all the Greens and NZ First. So expect the price of a drink to skyrocket under a change of government. There is a glimmer of hope though – Shearer, Mallard, Hipkins, Woods, Cosgrove and Faafoi voted against Dalziel’s minimum pricing amendment.

So what are the major law changes:

  • local alcohol policies can be set determining maximum trading hours in their area and limiting the location of licensed premises. This sensibly recognises that the needs of Wainuiomata may be different to Courtenay Place.
  • stronger rules about the types of stores eligible to sell alcohol and restricting supermarkets and grocery stores to displaying alcohol in a single area.
  • express consent from parents or guardians before supplying alcohol to a minor
  • new liquor licensing criteria, making licences harder to get and easier to lose
  • stronger controls on alcohol advertising and promotion

I think the most important change is that it is now an offence to supply alcohol to minors, without parental consent. Previously it was only an offence to sell it.

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Benefits of alcohol

November 29th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Charley Mann at The Press reports:

Those who enjoy a glass or two should ignore the ”badly overstated” warnings about alcohol over the festive season, a University of Canterbury academic says.

The flurry of alcohol warnings ahead of Christmas were overstated and incorrect, said economics lecturer Dr Eric Crampton. ”Nobody warns us about the warnings.”

“And there’s danger in that … since some of the warnings are either false or badly overstated.”

Indeed.

Crampton said health warnings on alcohol focused ”exclusively” on curbing the harm experienced by heavy drinkers but ignored the enjoyment for moderate drinkers. This risked doing more harm than good, Crampton said.

”It is hard to open the paper without finding dire warnings about alcohol’s costs to the country. But how often do we hear that drinkers earn more than non-drinkers?

“Or that light drinkers have lower mortality risk than non-drinkers? Or that light-to-moderate drinking predicts better ageing outcomes?

Fundamentally alcohol is very different to tobacco. Tobacco kills you, even in moderation. Almost everyone who smokes wants to give up smoking. Very few moderate or light drinkers want to give up alcohol.

Hence the focus should be on heavy or binge drinking, not on demonising alcohol overall.

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8 pm closing!

October 25th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports:

Andrew Little’s amendment had apparently time-travelled all the way from the 1920s and proposed off-licences shut at 8pm rather than the proposed 10pm.

The explanation for this early “lights out” was such a masterpiece of delicious, pious absurdity that it requires repeating: it was because people buying alcohol any later than 8pm were likely to be already a bit tipsy “and may not have the judgment and self-control necessary to make cogent decisions”.

Good God. The woser factor out in full force. We weak humans need protecting from ourselves because at 8 pm we’re already “tipsy”.

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Drug Foundation Alcohol Bingo

October 24th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Drug Foundation has published a bingo card of “cliched phrases” they say MPs will use to defend the liquor industry.

Firstly I’m disappointed that the NZDF, normally fairly sensible on drug and alcohol issues, is now into denigrating motives of MPs. I expect Doug Selman to rant on about MPs defending the liquor industry, not the NZDF. The fact that MPs disagree with them on an issue, doesn’t mean they are defending the liquor industry. It means they don’t agree with the proposed law will have more benefits than harm.

What is interesting is the list of phrases they include, because I assume that in including them, they think that the proposition is flawed.

  • Unfair to responsible drinkers
  • We’re doing research on this
  • Parental responsibility
  • Education Is the answer

So are NZDF against doing research, against education, against parental responsibility and for punishing responsible drinkers?

I think NZDF do a good job overall, but they should stick to sensible research based advocacy, and avoid stupid stuff like this which may make them feel they are hip or cool, but will have no impact with those they are trying to influence.

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Nutritional information labels for alcohol

October 24th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Waikato Times reports:

Hamilton Labour MP Sue Moroney reckons if young women knew how many calories there were in alcoholic drinks they might think twice before getting drunk.

That’s why she wants nutritional information labels for booze added to the Alcohol Reform Bill.

I understand health groups have said that full nutritional information on alcohol may actually encourage people to drink more as it is basically zero fat etc. However I do think just having a calorie count of alcohol could be beneficial – and not just for young women!

However, her National counterpart, Tim Macindoe, said such amendments were not as important as restricting the supply and marketing of alcohol.

Perhaps, but it is not a case of choosing one or the other. Put it like this – is there a good argument against including calorie information on alcohol, considering almost all other food and drink has it?

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The marathon alcohol debate

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:10 pm by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

MPs are set to embark on a long and laboured debate to pass what critics have labelled the ”alcohol non-reform” bill.

An overhaul of liquor laws is expected back in Parliament today for its committee stage – the most detailed debate of any bill.

Some have tipped the bill could carry on being debated at the committee stage for some weeks, with about 20 amendments to be thrashed out by MPs.

The length of the debate is more about how many parts the bill has, not how many amendments have been put forward. However amendments can take a wee while to vote on and there are not 20 amendments but 20 SOPs, and each SOP can have multiple amendments.

There are 10 parts to the Alcohol Reform Bill, which means 11 debates of probably two hours each. Each vote on an amendment takes around a minute of whips case the votes but will take much longer if they do a personal vote on each amendment. MPs can give their proxies to the whips to vote on each amendment but with Labour allowing a free vote on every amendment, someone may ask the Speaker for a personal vote on each amendment.

Among the amendments proposed by Labour MPs is a ban on liquor sales from off-licences after 8pm and a minimum pricing regime.

Jesus Christ – 8 pm? Let’s bring back 6 o’clock closing also. So if you go to the supermarket at 8.30 pm to do your weekly groceries, you wouldn’t be able to buy a bottle of wine. I’ll look forward to seeing who votes for that stupidity.

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Now they want to regulate our drinking glasses

October 5th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

UK researchers have studied the shape of drinking glasses. Their conclusion is:

Our data indicate that the shape of a drinking glass influences the rate of drinking of an alcoholic beverage, but not a non-alcoholic beverage. Specifically, alcoholic beverages were consumed more slowly from a straight glass than a curved glass when a full glass was presented.

Naturally we need to be protected from ourselves, so they recommend legislators look at regulating drinking glasses. First they complain:

Other restrictions on availability, such as increased drinking age, reduced hours and days when alcohol may be purchased, and reduced number, density and type of alcohol outlet, have also been shown to reduce consumption levels [1]. Unfortunately, despite evidence for the effectiveness of these alcohol control measures and apparent public support for implementation targeted controls [7], most governments have been unwilling to adopt many or all of them [8].

That’s because not all alcohol consumption is bad.

Anyway they come up with a new regulatory idea:

There may be other potentially modifiable factors which may influence alcohol consumption and drinking rate. These might  include marketing signals (i.e., branding), and vehicles for these signals such as the glasses from which beverages are consumed.

So they’re effectively saying Governments could regulate the design of glasses, banning curved glasses as people drink more quickly from them!

What we’re seeing over time is all the measures that have been implemented or proposed for tobacco, getting extended to alcohol and then fast food.

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Most stupid idea this year

September 20th, 2012 at 2:48 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

There are moves underway to clean up the Wellington Sevens, now that it’s an Olympic sport.

The Wellington leg of the international tournament has gained a reputation as being a non-stop party, with dozens of arrests often taking place for drunken behaviour.

General manager Steve Walters says they’ve been surveying the rugby community as to whether they think limiting alcohol, or introducing a ‘dry zone’ for part of the first day, is a good idea.

An alcohol free Sevens – yeah right. All that would happen is no one would buy tickets for the actual games, still dress up in costumes, get drunk in town and watch it on screens at the bars.

If they have an alcohol free zone at the Sevens, they won’t need more than 20 seats or so.

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A sad death

September 1st, 2012 at 11:02 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Michael Lafou was supposed to be hanging out with his mates playing computer games, but instead the teenager died cold and alone.

The 16-year-old Naenae College pupil sat near the Hutt River with friends and drank a concoction of booze – including straight bourbon, beer and RTDs – before his body was found on the water’s edge early on Wednesday, police have revealed.

They believe heavy alcohol consumption and the cold weather overnight may have contributed to his death.

His death came as MPs voted against raising the drinking age to 20 – a move that disappointed many in the health sector who deal with the consequences of grossly intoxicated teenagers.

He was 16, not 18 or 19. An age change would not have changed this sad outcome.

The death highlighted the dangers of supplying people under 18 with alcohol, Mr Hill said. “This is the harsh consequences of young people drinking.”

Absolutely. We need a culture change that you do not supply alcohol to those unable to purchase it legally. And the rest of the Alcohol Reform Bill changes the law to make it illegal for someone like Michael to be supplied alcohol without parental consent.

Bars and pubs were not at fault, and few liquor stores had been caught selling to underage people. Adults with access to alcohol were largely to blame.

Indeed. I hope they do find out who did supply the alcohol.

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The alcohol age ballot

August 30th, 2012 at 5:57 pm by David Farrar

The results of the first ballot was 18/18 had the most but not 50% and split the least so this means a final ballot of 18/18 and 20/20. Results soon.

Yes 18 won with 69 votes. Well done Keep it 18 and especially Moana Mackey and Nikki Kaye for a great result!

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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 Alcohol Reform Act is to make it an offence to supply alcohol 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 – Drink Driving

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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The cost of alcohol

August 26th, 2012 at 11:12 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton inserts some facts in a Press op-ed:

I do not particularly care what the jury decides on who is or is not a wowser. But I work with and care about the numbers around alcohol policy. And the impression most readers would get from the latest reporting in The Press is a bit at odds with, well, reality.

Let us begin perhaps with Jennie Connor’s citing of “a Canadian study” on the effects of minimum pricing. Can a 10 per cent increase in the minimum price of alcohol really reduce total alcohol consumption by 16 per cent? No. …

Across-the-board increases in the minimum price of alcohol have far smaller effects: a 10 per cent price increase reduces aggregate consumption by only about 3.4 per cent, as is made reasonably clear in Auld’s paper.

But the bigger mis-use of numbers follows:

I was a bit more surprised to read of the new commissioned BERL report on the health costs of alcohol in Canterbury. …

BERL here replicated work done in Australia by Collins and Lapsley (2008). But where Collins and Lapsley added up all the costs imposed by those disorders where alcohol makes things worse and subtracted from that total all the cost savings from those disorders where alcohol reduces costs, BERL simply erased any beneficial effects of alcohol for disorders including ischaemic heart disease, cholelithiasis, heart failure, stroke and hypertension. …

I received the paper Wednesday courtesy of the CDHB. And BERL, at footnote 14, reports they’ve done the same thing again: “The Collins and Lapsley fractions indicate some alcohol use may be beneficial for some conditions. We concentrate on harmful drug use, and assume zero fractions for such conditions.”

So their measure of the costs of alcohol to the Canterbury health system relies on an assumption that there can be no health benefits from alcohol – an assumption that runs contrary to the weight of international evidence. Assuming one’s conclusions is hardly proper method.

To put it more bluntly the BERL paper is useless as a public policy tool.  Measuring harm without measuring benefits is something zealots do, but we expect better in scientific papers.

Crampton concludes:

How often do you read that problem drinking among 15-24 year olds was no different in 2006/2007 than in 1996/1997 before the change in the alcohol purchase age?

Or that per capita alcohol consumption is down substantially since 1991? Othat light drinkers have about a 14%reduction in their chance of dying from any cause than people who never drink, correcting for the host of other health-related behaviours that are usually given as reasons for ignoring the health benefits of moderate drinking?

Be skeptical of the moral crisis around alcohol.

Amazing to see the comments at The Press attacking Eric personally or attacking things he never said. Very few able to engage on the actual issue.

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Fisking the Herald editorial

August 24th, 2012 at 11:10 am by David Farrar

This may be the most ignorant fact challenged Herald editorial yet.

It says much for the burgeoning market for ready-to-drink alcopops that the liquor industry reacted so urgently to a threat to their popularity. A Government proposal to ban off-licence stores from selling alcopops with more than 6 per cent alcohol content had industry heavyweights beating a path to Justice Minister Judith Collins’ door. 

If the Government proposed to ban something, of course companies will resist that, especially when the ban would actually increase harmful drinking?

The fruits of their labour became obvious this week when for no good reason the Government backed down on its plan …

No good reasons, means the Herald doesn’t think readers deserve to hear the other side of the argument. That prohibition was not going to work, was unenforceable, and substitution was highly likely to increase harm from alcohol. Now you can debate those propositions, but the Herald decides they do not exist and their readers don’t need to be informed of them.

The Government had planned a tough line on alcopops because they are particularly harmful. Sweet-tasting, cheap and with a typical alcohol content of 8 to 10 per cent – twice that of most beers

This is such a stupid comparison – and one taken as a quote from certain lobby groups. Wine is three times the strength of most beers. Baileys is four times the strength. Spirits are eight times the strength. Absinthe is around 12 times the strength.

Beer is not what many RTD drinkers would substitute to. It is wine and self-mixed spirits – which are av average 13%.

they have become the favoured drink of many young women

Yes, and most young women don’t substitute to beer – they substitute to wine. Also young women tend to drink the 5% RTDs, not the 8% RTDs. The proposed ban would have not impacted them greatly. It would have impacted the older males who like their Woodstocks.

The Government’s original plan, incorporated in the Alcohol Reform Bill, was based on the belief that a mandatory lower alcohol level would persuade many drinkers to abandon alcopops and reduce their overall consumption of liquor.

Yes, many would abandon alcopops. But to think they would abandon liquor is about as sensible a belief as Scientology. There is empirical evidence from Australia that spirits consumption went up, as RTDs were singled out for tax increase. Does the Herald not believe in evidence based decision making? Surely the Herald thinks the Government should commission research on what should happen if they banned RTDs over 5% rather than merely make decisions based on a “belief”?

I’ve stated previously Curia did a stack of research on this issue for Independent Liquor NZ. Now some may say well you can’t trust it, because of whom commissioned it. Now I in no way accept that – but my response to that was always to plead that the Government through the Ministry of Health or Justice should go away and commission its own research amongst drinkers of RTDs as to what they would do if RTDs over 5% were banned. I am very confident they would get the same conclusions – there would be significant substitution to even higher alcohol products.

It also casts an even greater focus on the difference in approach to the liquor and tobacco industries. The tobacco giants have been under unrelenting assault, including, most recently, a ban on retail displays and a plan to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packaging. The comparison with the content and snail’s pace of alcohol reform could not be starker.

That is because tobacco, taken in moderation, still kills you. Alcohol does not. If you drink too much coke, it will kill you. Too much water will kill you. It is the abuse of alcohol that is the problem – not alcohol per se. With tobacco, it is entirely different.

The Law Commission will forever remain perplexed that several of its key recommendations after a painstaking inquiry, notably on minimum pricing and an increased excise tax, have not been included in the Alcohol Reform Bill. The Government’s timidity can only have encouraged the liquor industry to think it could take the sting out of a perfectly reasonable attempt to limit the damage caused by alcopops. 

In a final act of confusion the editorial wails that the Law Commission recommendations have not all been agreed to by the Government – yet doesn’t see fit to mention that Law Commission did not recommend the 5% limit on RTDs. To the contrary, it cited evidence that substitution would occur and said the focus should be on alcohol as a whole  not just a particular type of product (unless unsafe).

And the attempt was not reasonable. It was an attempt that was likely to actually increase harm, or even deaths, from alcohol. An 1125 bottle of vodka is far far more dangerous than a six pack or even a dozen RTDs. By the end of the night, people often self-mix at 50/50 which is over 20% alcohol – and sometimes you even up drinking spirits straight at 40% alcohol. It was ridicolous to try and target a 6% or 7% or 8% drink, which might push people onto drinking 13%, 20% or even 40% strengths drinks. And if you think that would not have happened, then I suggest you actually go out and talk to some young drinkers.

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Some sense on RTDs

August 23rd, 2012 at 1:22 pm by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

The liquor industry has scored a win over the planned regulation of RTDs in the Government’s alcohol reform package.

I think it is a win for common sense, and actually a win for reduced harm from alcohol.

Justice Minister Judith Collins yesterday revealed she had dumped an earlier plan to ban the sale of ”RTDs” (ready-to-drink) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content from off-license stores.

Alcohol reforms initially announced by former Justice Minister Simon Power originally included a ban on RTDs with 5 per cent alcohol or more from off-licenses.

The proposed ban was effectively a form of prohibition.  Research (a phone poll, two point of sale surveys and eight focus groups) Curia did for Independent Liquor left me in no doubt that the impact of trying to ban RTDs over 5% would be a significant substitution effect, with many people going from say 8% RTDs to (on average) 13% self-mixes. Note that the research Curia did for ILNZ was over a year ago, and I have no ongoing commercial relationship with them.

The experience in Australia with increasing taxes on RTDs also produced empirical evidence of increased substitution to spirits, and this is one of the reasons the Law Commission did not recommend this measure.

Instead, the bill will include a ”regulation-making power” for the Government to restrict the sale of RTDs in future. Until the powers are exercised, however, RTD sales will be left to work under the industry’s own code.

”The Government has decided to give the alcohol industry the opportunity to introduce its own measures to limit the harm to young people caused by RTDs,” Collins said.

”The industry has offered to put in place a voluntary code on RTDs. If the industry measures are ineffective, Government has the ability to take action through a regulation-making power in the bill. This allows restrictions on the sale of RTDs at any time in the future.” …

The association promised in April to:

- Limit the production and distribution of new RTDs to a maximum of two ”standard drinks” per single container.
- Show clearly the number of ”standard drinks” on each container.
- Ensure no RTDs have ”specific appeal to minors”.
- Comply with the Code for Advertising Liquor, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority.
- ”Invest and support” responsible drinking educational programmes.

There are some RTDs which are, shall we say, a but anti-social. I’m not a fan of the Bigfoot RTD which was a large 6 – 8 standard drinks in one container.  There is a certain incentive to finish a container, and people don’t tend to share containers as they might say individual drinks.

So a self-regulatory limit of say 2 standard drinks per container has merit in my opinion. A restriction on the number of drinks per container is much more sensible than trying to ban 6% RTDs, when people would then buy 40% vodka. The reality is that some RTD drinkers do not like the 5% RTDs (they call them lolly water) and prefer the stronger ones.

A limit of two standard drinks per container means they have as much alcohol as a standard double nip in a bar.

There were also two other problems with the proposed prohibition on RTDs over 5%. One is that under CER, the RTDs could be made in Australia, and imported here. We would simply be exporting jobs.

The third is that prohibition does not work as well as self-regulation. If you ban say 8% RTDs, then manufacturers could do inventive stuff like sell a container which has (for example) rum in one part and coke in the other, and you just mix them together to make your own RTD (just as many self-mix from spirits from mixers).

I have no doubt that the proposed prohibition on RTDs over 5% would have not only failed, it would have increased overall harm from alcohol. I am glad the Government is going for something that will work, over something that sounds good, but would be harmful.

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When has prohibition worked?

August 1st, 2012 at 7:08 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Justice Minister Judith Collins has suggested there will be further changes to rules on alcopops in liquor reforms due before Parliament.

The Alcohol Reform Bill bans off-licence stores from selling ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

Mrs Collins this morning hinted that this could be amended.

“There will be a provision on RTDs, and that provision will be a bit different from what we did in May, just to make it more workable and more flexible to make it better able to react to any initiatives by the industry that might make it counter-productive to what we’re trying to do.”

I think it is initiatives by RTD drinkers they should worry about – specifically substitution to hard spirits.

Effectively what the Government is proposing is a limited form of prohibition or banning. It is saying it will be illegal to sell RTDs (at off-licenses) of greater than 6% alcohol. This is effectively abolishing certain types of drink. When in the history of humanity has such prohibition worked?

In the Law Commission report the reforms were based on, the commission said the most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, in particular women.

I repeat. The Law Commission did not recommend any measures against RTDs specifically. This proposal is not based on the Law Commission report, but in fact goes against what they said, which was:

Despite these concerns, there are strong arguments why it is not feasible to ban or directly target RTDs. The risks associated with drinking RTDs are of no marked difference to any other alcohol product. It is likely that banning one type of alcohol product would simply lead to the development of alternative products by the alcohol industry. Some experts consider that young people would be likely to switch products in order to obtain cheap alcohol if measures were introduced to single out RTDs by increasing their price or removing them from the market.

Some of the products to which they may switch are arguably more likely to cause harm because of the high alcohol content, such as straight spirits mixed with other beverages.

On this issue the Law Commission is absolutely correct.

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RTDs

July 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Liquor industry executives have met Justice Minister Judith Collins and urged her to quash a law change which will ban the sale of high-strength “alcopops” in bottle stores. …

In May, the minister said there was a growing concern about sweet-tasting drinks that were high in alcohol.

In the Law Commission report the reforms were based on, the commission said the most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, in particular women.

Actually the Law Commission did not recommend any measures specifically against RTDs. They correctly said that if you did this, then substitution is likely to occur. The Government inserted this proposal in the bill – it was not recommended by the Law Commission.

I blogged last year that Curia did some extensive research work for Independent Liquor in this area. The findings (from a phone poll, two point of sale surveys and half a dozen focus groups) were that around half of RTD drinkers but 8% RTDs and around half 5% RTDs. Of those who buy 8% RTDs (and they tend to be older men, not young women), many said that if RTDs are restricted to 5%, they would substitute to other products such as spirits.

We found that the average strength of a self-mix is 13% (and that is at the beginning of the night – it increases during the night), so what the proposed law change will do is move many RTD drinkers from an 8% product to a 13% product. Stupid right? This part of the bill will, in my opinion, significantly increase harm from alcohol.

Australia tried something similiar – what they did was put a special tax on RTDs. Sure enough, RTD sales dropped. But sales of spirits increased.

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Alcohol advertising

July 16th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Lees-Galloway had drafted a series of amendments to the Bill that he would put up when it came back to the debating chamber for a clause by clause debate, which was expected this month.

They included restricting alcohol advertising around schools, early childhood centres and at all but R18 films, and prohibiting advertising discounts.

Labour acknowledged many organisations relied on alcohol sponsorship, just as many once relied on tobacco sponsorship, he said.

“That is why I want to take this moderate approach to consider the viability of this option and to plan a smooth implementation should it go ahead.”

Lees-Galloway also wanted alcohol sponsorship phased out the same way tobacco sponsorship was phased out.

I’ll come to the amendments in a second, but I think banning alcohol sponsorship would be a draconian move, and unjustified.

THE PROPOSED CHANGES:

- Remove alcohol advertising on posters or billboards within 300m of schools and early childhood centres.

I don’t have a problem of removing within a fair distance of schools. ECEs is a bit over-board – I don’t think three year olds look at billboards much – and more practically an ECE can move about anywhere – unlike schools which tend to be in a fairly fixed location.

Remove alcohol advertising in cinemas unless the film screening is R18

This is an effective ban in all movies. When is the last time an R18 showed? I have some sympathy for the notion thought that one shouldn’t advertise in films targeted for kids. Maybe a lower threshold though?

Prohibit television advertising of alcohol before 9pm.

Sounds reasonable.

Prohibit using price in alcohol advertisements except in catalogues. Prohibit advertising discounts on alcohol, including in catalogues.

This one has some merit. Brand advertising I do not have a problem with, but advertising that promoted very cheap alcohol does cause issues. But one has to be careful how far you go. Making happy hour illegal can be taking things too far.

Establish a “Alcohol Advertising Reform Committee” with the health and justice ministries which would include the Health Promotion Agency.

Not sure we need a committee, but an issue with alcohol advertising is that the only penalty for breach of an ASA code on alcohol advertising is you have to pull the advertisement. This I think encourages some advertising which does breach the code. It is worth looking at having some sanctions for code breaches.

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Crampton on minimum prices

July 11th, 2012 at 7:57 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton blogs:

Last week, anti-alcohol advocacy group Alcohol Action NZ put out a press release where the University of Otago’s Jennie Connor was quoted:

“A recent Canadian study has shown that a 10% increase in the minimum price of alcohol reduces its consumption by 16% relative to other drinks”.

Eric did something very unusual then.

I got in touch with one of the authors of what has to be the study to which she’s referring

Chris Auld reported that the -1.6 price elasticity figure indeed only refers to a measure of own-price elasticity. Except it isn’t quite own-price elasticity. Because the estimation technique doesn’t correct for substitution effects, it combines the own-price elasticity with cross-price elasticity from other products. 

Eric then starts quoting formulas which will turn off neurones in most people, but they are there if you want to read them.

Chris also confirms that the -0.34 estimate is the one that best reflects the expected effects of an across-the-board price increase like minimum pricing

That means a 10% increase in prices would reduce consumption by 3.4%. Eric concludes:

Jennie Connor really should retract her press release or issue a correction. It leads people to believe that a minimum price will have far more effect on harmful drinkers’ consumption than can be supported by the evidence. Otherwise, how much weight should anybody place on any “fact” claimed by Jennie Connor in her press releases?

But to show he is balanced (and Eric is one of those guys who is all about the facts), he sides with Ross Bell of the Drug Foundation over John Key re the impact of minimum pricing on the quality of drink. But he also corrects Ross on a couple of things also. A post well worth reading.

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Labour split on minimum pricing

July 7th, 2012 at 9:40 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

There are rumbles within Labour over MP Charles Chauvel promoting a minimum pricing regime for upcoming alcohol law changes as party policy.

TVNZ reported Labour had the numbers to pass the minimum pricing regime but it appears Mr Chauvel may not have all his colleagues on board, let alone the crucial votes of United Future and ACT.

That is because Labour is treating the changes as a conscience vote and several of its MPs oppose minimum pricing.

Will they vote against Chauvel’s amendment.

It is interesting that they are trying to say the amendment is a Chauvel amendment, not a Labour amendment. The problem is that Chauvel is their Justice Spokesperson, so amendments from him are not seen the same as amendments from a junior backbencher.

My challenge to every MP who votes for the minimum price amendment, is to be as courageous as Lianne Dalziel was, and state what you think the minimum price should be.

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Labour in retreat

July 6th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

 Labour MP Charles Chauvel is calling for a minimum price on alcohol, but there is no consensus among his party about what that price should be.

This is trying to have your cake and eat it to. It is like a party announcing their taxation policy and saying “Oh we favour taxes going up, but we won’t tell you to how much”. A minimum pricing policy with no detail on what they want the minimum price to be, is not credible.

Before the 2011 election, Labour MP Lianne Dalziel argued in the House for a $2 minimum price per standard drink in Parliament. She said this would bump up the price of the $6 bottles of wine which young women “pre-loaded on”, while not affecting a $15 bottle of wine.

National has argued that this would mean no bottle of wine – which usually contained 7 to 8 standard drinks – could be bought for less than $16.

Ms Dalziel’s office yesterday said that the MP used the $2 threshold as an example, and it was not Labour policy. It was up to the Justice Minister to decide on the threshold, and if minimum pricing was voted on in the House, Labour MPs would vote individually on it.

Crap.  Here are her exact words:

we should set a minimum price that would prevent wine from being sold for less than $2 for a standard drink

Does that sound like an example? It is a clear statement of what the minimum price should be.

This was not a one off. Labour’s spokesperson has been very consistent. At the first reading in 2010 she also said:

The priority is to increase the price of dirt-cheap alcohol, and that is why I am arguing for minimum pricing. I refer to the $5.99 bottles of wine. At that price, three young women can buy five bottles of wine to preload on, rather than buy two bottles of very good wine for the same price. The ones who buy five bottles of $5.99 wine are the most price-sensitive buyers. They are the ones who will change their behaviour when prices go up. Do not let anyone tell us that it will do otherwise. That is the reason for a minimum price per standard drink. The $2 per minimum standard drink price would not touch a $15 bottle of wine. That would stay the same price, but it would slightly more than double the price of the $5.99 bottle of wine.

It would touch the $15 bottle of wine. My Central Otago Pinot Noir is 14%, which for 750mls is 8.3 standard drinks. That would mean a minimum price of $16.60. I generally avoid the $6 bottles of wines, but you get many good wines for $11 or so, and Lianne is advocating they increase 50% in price.

I hope that MPs in Parliament will not let Labour get away with their policy of saying we believe in minimum pricing, we want to pass a law to enable it, but we will not tell you what the minimum price should be. Labour should be honest and tell New Zealanders what they think the minimum price should be.

Maybe it is even more than $2 a standard drink?

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How much should we pay for a drink?

July 5th, 2012 at 3:03 pm by David Farrar

In my Herald column I write about Labour’s proposed minimum pricing for alcohol.

Labour seem very reluctant to confirm what minimum price they are actually advocating. Lianne Dalziel twice stated in Parliament it should be at least $2 a standard drink. Her colleagues seem to want to ignore that, as seen below.

You can’t have it both ways and have your MPs get up in Parliament and say the law should be this, and then deny that is your policy – especially when the MP is your spokesperson on alcohol issues.

A reader sent me this graphic, which sums it up.

More usefully, Eric Crampton has an excellent analysis of minimum pricing. He states:

What would the world have to look like for minimum alcohol pricing to be a reasonable policy solution?

Suppose it is the case that harmful heavy drinkers, the sort that impose the greatest harms on others when they consume alcohol, really don’t care about the quality of the alcohol they’re drinking; they’re buying whatever product provides alcohol at the lowest price per standard drink. Suppose further that this cohort’s consumption is reasonably responsive to price measures: if you raise the price of the cheapest form of alcohol, you’ll do a lot to curb that cohort’s consumption while not doing much to reduce the normal consumption of moderate drinkers. Finally, assume that there’s little overlap between the kinds of alcohol consumed by harmful drinkers and that consumed by moderate low-income drinkers.

So minimum pricing is a good idea Eric says, if the above holds true.

where both heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers are choosing the same kinds of products, albeit in different quantities, we have to worry a lot about how each kind of consumer responds to changes in prices. The best meta-study on the topic remains Wagenaar, who found that heavy drinkers are roughly 60% as price responsive as moderate drinkers: the price elasticity of demand among heavy drinkers is -0.28 while it’s -0.44 for average drinkers. If we doubled the price of lower cost products, which we’d have to do to get to Labour’s preferred $2 minimum price per standard drink, moderate drinkers who currently choose that class of product would cut back their consumption by about 44% while heavy drinkers would reduce their consumption by only about 28%.

Intuitively you would expect heavy drinkers to be less price sensitive.

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