Guest Post: Shaun Wallis on the Alcohol Purchase Age

August 30th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Shaun Wallis is the NZ Vice-President of the Young Nationals.

Shaun is currently working towards an LLB/BCA (Accounting and Taxation) double degree at Victoria University.

It’s who you are, not how old you are that determines drinking habits. There’s no denying we have a binge drinking culture, and there’s no denying that nearly all of us, young and old have been affected by it in ways large or small.

However, a large number of 18 and 19 year olds that drink responsibly will be scapegoated by the changes to the purchase age. Yet, the New Zealand-wide culture of alcohol abuse will remain…

If we are to tackle binge drinking as a country, we need to change our drinking habits not our drinking age. We know most problem drinkers are over 20. Where is the debate on the harm of drink driving and domestic violence to make New Zealand safer for young and old?

China, the UK, France, Spain and Ireland all have a purchase age of 18. The Germans allow 16 year olds to buy beer and wine, and 18 year olds to buy spirits. Italy has an age of 16 and Denmark allows 16 year olds to buy low-percentage alcohol from stores but not bars, restaurants and discos – and in the sweetest of ironies, the latter reserved for 18 year olds. Yet nearly all of these countries do not experience the abusive culture around alcohol. Fiddling with the purchase age is a red herring, which is why some of our politicians have got it so wrong on alcohol reform.

Better still the drinking habits of young people have improved since we lowered the age from 20 to 18. In 2006, ALAC research found 53% of 12 to 17 year olds were drinkers, but by 2010, only 32% were drinkers. That is a relative 40% drop in the prevalence rate over five years. 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%. Note this is the proportion of youth drinkers. Of total youth, only 11% start drinking before their 15th birthday. Thus there are positive signs already coming through with our youngest New Zealanders.

So lets focus on the changes in the Alcohol Reform Bill that do matter: It will empower agencies to use measures to regulate licencing responsibly – such as requiring bottle stores near schools to close when school gets out as well as targeting irresponsible supply to minors, requiring parental consent for supply of alcohol to minors based on reasonable grounds. Additionally, it cracks down on those who actively supply to minors, removing their licence/ certificate revoked if prosecuted. We have strong, sensible and practical measures that will address binge drinking across the board, not the age of a few binge drinkers alone.

The split age proposal will push 18 and 19 year olds into more dangerous environments when enjoying a few drinks with friends. No doubt about it – more serious harm and other associated harm occurs in and around licensed premises. Drink spiking, serious assault and sexual harm is more likely to occur in town than in the home of younger drinkers. 1 in 4 people arrested for disorderly behaviour as a result of excess drinking claim that their last drink was on a licensed premises. Even the NZ Law Commission is “not convinced the evidence supports this assumption“.

Why are we telling bar owners and staff to be babysitters of 18/19-year-old drinkers? The State needs to promote the virtues of personal responsibility and self-awareness of alcohol consumption on young drinkers to reduce alcohol abuse. Young drinkers need to understand the risks and manage their own consumption. Yet by limiting the place of alcohol consumption to bars and clubs for 18-19 year olds, the message to control your own drinking is diminished and babysitter functions are imposed on pubs and clubs.

Young rural New Zealanders will be unfairly affected by changing the purchase age. In provincial New Zealand, the days of the local pub have gone, with significantly fewer on-licensed premises. Rather than enjoy a few drinks at home with mates, 18 and 19 year old Kiwis in rural areas will be forced to jump in a car and drive a fair distance to the nearest licensed premises. Given nearly all New Zealanders overwhelmingly see drink driving as extremely dangerous and not acceptable, why would we want to contradict progress?

Lastly, there is a strong rights argument for the case to keep the purchase age at 18. At its most simplest form, if we deem 18 and 19 year olds old enough to move away from home, take a student loan out or start to learn a trade, manage their power, rent, internet, groceries and so on, surely they’re old enough to manage their own drinking habits? We need to promote more personal responsibility, and hence a targeted culture change campaign aimed at energizing individuals to take personal responsibility for their alcohol habits would be much, much more effective at delivering real change than just tinkering with the purchase age.

In sum, changing the purchase age will not have the desired effect of many in favour that seek to achieve. It won’t affect the culture. It won’t change behaviour. It’ll unnecessarily ping the vast majority of sensible 18 and 19 year olds, and I believe Parliament will be called upon again to vote on the purchase age in the future. Let’s not waste our opportunity to break this cycle by focusing on the changes we need to make and stop flogging the age. We can draw circles around the age or we can start making effective changes through good laws and quality education that changes habits and turns our drinking culture around.

The vote/s will be at 5.30 pm today. I really do hope they vote to keep it 18, as we can then move on from this issue, and focus on the other issues around alcohol. If it is increased in part or full to 20, it will remain a contentious issue as young New Zealanders will never accept that they can be working, married, raising kids at 19 but not able to buy wine at the supermarket.

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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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Keep it 18 reason #4

August 16th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Most alcohol is supplied by parents or family members

The latest ALAC survey found 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.

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Keep it 18 reason #3

August 15th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Reason 1- Youth drinking is dropping, not increasing

Reason 2 – Increasing the purchase age will dilute the message not to supply to minors

Reason 3 is a split 18/20 age will push young drinkers into town

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 at home.

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A unique joint submission

March 9th, 2011 at 12:52 pm by David Farrar

The Keep it 18 campaign is appearing before the Justice and Electoral Committee at 5.20 pm today in Select Committee Room 2 in Bowen House, to do an oral submission on the Alcohol Reform Bill.

The Presidents (or nominees) of Young Labour, Young Nationals, Young Greens and Act on Campus will appear together to talk to their submission, on why 18 and 19 year olds should be able to continue to buy a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer when they do the shopping.

It is the first time the four youth wings have done a formal joint submission to a select committee. Most or all the youth wings have also done individual submissions on the wider issues in the bill.

Their Facebook page has around 17,500 fans.

What strikes me as pertinent as that the voters of Botany have just elected 25 year old Jami-Lee Ross as the MP for Botany. And it is the fourth time he has been elected to office. He was elected to Manukau City Council at the age of 18, and did a good enough job that he got elected twice more – and then to Parliament.

This law would say that Jami-Lee, as an 18 year old, can not be trusted to buy a bottle of wine in a supermarket. However he can be trusted to sit on a City Council, where he would vote on Council spending, by-laws and policies – including the local alcohol policy for a district.

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10,000 and growing

August 26th, 2010 at 1:26 pm by David Farrar

The Keep it 18 page on Facebook has been gaining members at a massive rate. It hit 10,000 overnight and is now at 10,550. Join up, if you support the cause.

You can also follow the campaign on Twitter.

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National Conference votes to keep it 18

July 17th, 2010 at 4:24 pm by David Farrar

Yay. The main floor of the National Party conference just voted (around 60% in favour) to support a remit calling for the purchase age of alcohol to remain 18, but to enforce current law more effectively.

That’s a huge victory, and big ups to the Young Nationals who spoke well in favour of it. To win over the majority of delegates who are almost all aged over 40 is a great testament to the power of logical argument.

The vote is not binding on MPs (the only MPs I saw with their hands up were David Bennett and Nikki Kaye, but I couldn’t see them all) but it will be of some influence that their own party conference basically said that raising the purchase age was the wrong response to the right problem. There was good discussion that a better course of action is to target supply of alcohol to those aged under 18.

They also after the remit announced the results of the board election, The three candidates elected (in order) were Peter Goodfellow, Roger Bridge and Malcolm Plimmer.

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Follow the Campaign

April 30th, 2010 at 4:38 pm by David Farrar

If you think putting the alcohol purchase age up to 20 is discriminatory, feel free to join the over 3,700 people on the Facebook page for the campaign, and/or follow the twitter feed.

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NZPA on Keep It 18

April 29th, 2010 at 4:13 pm by David Farrar

The four youth wings had a joint press conference at Parliament today on the Law Commission report. NZPA report:

Keep it 18 spokeswoman Jenna Raeburn, 22, said today it was a contradiction that 18 and 19-year-olds could work in a bar, vote, get married or become a prostitute and politicians were considering taking away their right to drink alcohol.

There were also benefits of drinking, which were not mentioned in the Law Commission report, she said.

“The fact that people like to drink speaks for itself.

“Going out and drinking, and even going out and getting drunk, can be a lot of fun.”

Ms Raeburn said raising the alcohol purchase age would punish the majority for the actions of a few problem drinkers.

There were quite a few questions about what is meant by “getting drunk” and “binge drinking”. Jenna was differentiating between what many of us have been – tipsy type drunk, and heavily drunk, where you cause damage to yourself or others.

The Law Commission report I’m told defined binge drinking as four or more drinks in a night for a woman, and six for a man. Jenna rejected that definition, and some journalists were asserting you can’t disagree with the science quoted.

That got me thinking. If four drinks or more in a night represents binge drinking, then I would say 95% of people at the annual press gallery party are binge drinkers.

If you have six drinks in an hour, that is probably binge drinking. But six drinks over a six hour party, with plenty of food, is not – well to me anyway.

ACT on Campus president Peter McCaffrey, 22, said Members of Parliament who wanted to raise the drinking age should reject any votes they receive from 18 and 19-year-olds at the next election.

“If an 18-year-old is not rational enough to be able to have a beer after work with their workmates, how can they possibly make such an important decision as to who should represent them in Parliament?”

Heh that was a great point.

Young Labour spokeswoman Nicola Wood, 17, said the Government would do better to enforce current law rather than punishing the majority of the 140,000 18 and 19-year-olds who were responsible drinkers.

“Creating a culture of responsible drinking only comes from policy which better enables young people to make positive decisions about how they use alcohol.”

There is some clear evidence that existing laws are not enforced. Off memory only one conviction for serving an intoxicated person and 27 for serving under age.

Young Greens spokesman Zachary Dorner, 20, said many older people also drank excessively.

“Eighteen and 19-year-olds are not the problem — drinking is.”

Raising the purchase age of alcohol was a “discriminatory solution” and could not address the cultural issues around drinking in New Zealand.

The law was also likely to be flouted, he said.

Mr Dorner proposed restricting alcohol supply and advertising, increasing education and treatment accessibility and community control as the best ways to improve the drinking culture here.

Solving the cultural issues around binge drinking are not easy, but making it illegal for a 19 year old to have a glass of wine, with their parents, in a restaurant will just make things worse in my opinion.

Young Nats president Daniel Fielding, 23, said an 18-year-old has the responsibilities of adulthood so there was no justification for restricting their right to consume alcohol.

Young people were a “convenient scapegoat”, he said.

“Solutions need to focus on problem drinkers, not punish all drinkers.

“A blanket measure of raising the drinking age will not change the drinking culture.”

It says something when all four of these parties have their youth wings in agreement on the age issue.

Scoop also has a story, plus audio.

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Keep It 18 press release

April 27th, 2010 at 1:28 pm by David Farrar

YOUTH WINGS CALL ON PARLIAMENT TO KEEP IT 18

The youth wings of the National, Labour, Green and ACT parties have joined forces in the Keep It 18 campaign, to tell their MPs that increasing the purchase age for alcohol to 20 is the wrong thing to do.

“Parliament has twice voted for the purchase age to be 18, and it is disappointing that the Law Commission is trying to turn the clock back again,” said group spokesperson Jenna Raeburn.

In 1999 Parliament voted to change the age of purchase from 20 to 18 by 59 votes to 55. The previous law had numerous exemptions to it, so in fact 18 year olds had been able to legally drink alcohol in licensed premises for many decades.

In 2006 a move to change it back to 18 was defeated 49 votes to 72. The members of Keep It 18 urge MPs to not spend time on trying to reverse history, but instead to focus on measures that target problem drinkers, rather than seek to punish all 140,000 18 and 19 year olds.

“While primarily focused on the purchase age, we also are concerned over the proposed nationwide setting of closing times, and mandating a one way policy for bars after 2 am. In our opinion, these also fail to target problem drinkers, and again will disadvantage the many responsible young people who enjoy a night out dancing and drinking with friends.”

Young Nationals President Daniel Fielding said “Let’s not have a return to nanny state policies, a blanket measure of raising the drinking age will not change the drinking culture. This can only be achieved by introducing measures that places responsibility back onto the individual“

Nicola Wood, Young Labour spokesperson for Keep It 18 said “Young Labour feel a higher drinking age would serve only to exacerbate the harms caused by alcohol. If we want to create a culture of responsible drinking, we need policy which better enables young people to make positive decisions about how they use alcohol, while at the same time acknowledging that this broad problem cannot be pinned on one sector of society. We will oppose any change to the law which discriminates unfairly against young people “

Zachary Dorner, Young Greens spokesperson said “Raising the drinking age has more to do with pointing the finger at young people than solving the real issues. What we need to do is to take a look at ourselves and start treating alcohol as the harmful drug that it is”

ACT on Campus President Peter McCaffrey said “Politicians have no right to tell New Zealanders what they can consume and when they can consume it. The government’s role is to protect you from others not from yourself. The government should focus on targeting people who are causing harm to others rather than act as a nanny-state, telling everyone how much fun they can have “

Jenna Raeburn continued “All our political parties have 18 and 19 year old members who are allowed to vote, allowed to marry, allowed to have sex, and trusted enough to go out and do volunteer work for their parties. Saying that these same members can not be trusted to purchase a bottle of wine from a supermarket or a pint of beer at a bar is hypocritical and insulting, and we urge all MPs in Parliament to reject an age change.”

“We accept the problems caused by alcohol abuse in our society, and are happy to work with MPs in identifying which proposals put forward by the Law Commission are worth supporting. But increasing the purchase age is not one of them. Criminalising 140,000 18 and 19 year olds is the wrong answer,” concluded Miss Raeburn.

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