Appeared this morning before the Justice & Electoral Committee (well technically Sub-Committee A of the said Committee) to speak to my submission on the Alcohol Reform Bill which is below. I’ve appeared so often before that Committee, that I’ve now been labelled a groupie 🙂
Had around 15 minutes, and thought it was a good discussion. The MPs engaged well and are obviously over the many issues in the bill. Everyone agrees we want less harm from alcohol. The trick is isolating the measures that will do that, and not have consequences which may lead to more harm. Plus also not overly penalising responsible drinkers.
SUBMISSION OF DAVID FARRAR TO THE JUSTICE & ELECTORAL SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE ALCOHOL REFORM BILL
About the Submitter
- This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
- The Government’s alcohol reform bill is an improvement on the status quo. However in some areas it does not go far enough, and in other areas it unfairly penalizes all New Zealanders, rather than more precisely targeting drinkers that cause harm to themselves or others.
- In this submission I have mainly focused on the areas where I think change is desirable, rather than list every clause I agree with.
A drinking age
- I believe that .the culture of youth drinking will not change unless we have a drinking age, as well as a purchase age. This may not be popular, but I believe it is necessary.
- At present it is totally legal for an adult (any adult) to supply a bottle of vodka to a 13 year old. It is only illegal to purchase it with the intent of supply, but it is not illegal to supply it. And intent is very difficult to prove.
- The proposed new requirements around supply of alcohol to minors are a good step in the right direction, and are arguably one of the most important parts of the bill. However I do not think they go far enough.
- I think parents need to be given assistance and tools in dealing with youth alcohol issues, and a drinking age is one way to do this. It allows parents to say “No it’s illegal to drink at your age”.
- Some will argue a drinking age is ineffective and can’t be policed. But by that argument we would not have a legal age for sex either. The idea isn’t to arrest lots of parents and young people for under-age drinking – but to send a clear message about appropriate ages. A comparison could be made to the age at which children can be legally left alone – 14. Now parents do not get arrested because they pop down to the dairy for 30 minutes while leaving a 12 year old at home. But it does mean most parents know that you generally should not leave under 14 year olds unsupervised.
- The ages I would propose for a drinking age are:
- 14 with parental supervision
- 16 with parental approval and adult supervision
- 18 otherwise
- Effectively this would say that no one under the age of 14 should be drinking alcohol at all, that 14 and 15 year olds can only drink with their parents (a wine with dinner type scenario) and that 16 and 17 year olds can only drink with parental permission and adult supervision (a birthday party supervised by other parents etc)
- A breach of the drinking age law should be an offence for the young person involved, as well as for whomever may have supplied the alcohol.
- It could be worth considering that only certain types of alcohol (ie not spirits) be legal at the younger ages.
The purchase age
- A drinking age will be far more effective in changing the culture of youth drinking than criminalizing 18 and 19 year olds for drinking.
- I am aware the purchase age will come to a conscience vote at committee of the whole stage, regardless of decisions by this select committee, so I don’t plan to spend too many words on this issue.
- A purchase age of 20 is impossible to justify as a principled position. At 18 one can even be elected to Parliament or a local Council. I note the future MP for Botany was elected to the Manukau City Council at 18 and the Mayor of Porirua was elected to his Council at the age of 19. This bill would give 18 and 19 year old Councillors a major say in local alcohol policies, but make it illegal to purchase a bottle of wine.
- The proposed 18/20 split age is better than a 20/20 age, but will seriously undermine the move to make it unacceptable to supply alcohol to under 18 year olds. This is because it will be legal for a 20 year old to supply alcohol to an 18 year old but not to a 17 year old. We want a law which says it is unacceptable to supply alcohol to anyone underage.
Excise Duty/Minimum Prices
- I support the level of excise duty being set as a level which will cover the external costs of alcohol consumption.
- There is credible research that the current level of excise duty does cover the external costs. There has been other research done which has concluded that the level of excise duty is not high enough. However that research has been shown to be totally flawed, containing the most basic errors such as counting private costs as external costs, yet not counting private benefits. The Government and Parliament should be very wary of decision making on such flawed research.
- The current excise regime is not consistent by strength of alcohol. Wine has a much lower excise for its volume of alcohol than other products, for example.
- I believe there is merit looking at either revising the excise tax to be less discriminatory or a minimum price scheme based on alcohol volume.
Local Alcohol Policies
- I generally support the ability of local communities to set alcohol policies for their area. What is appropriate for Cannons Creek may not be appropriate for Courtney Place.
- The Government has announced a policy intention of limiting RTDs to 5% strength and 1.5 standard drinks. This is not directly in the bill, but provision has been made to enable the Government to regulate this at a later date.
- As a market research company, my company (Curia) was engaged by Independent Liquor (NZ) Ltd to do quantitative and qualitative research on this issue, including the likely impact of any change. This research has been cited in their submission on the bill.
- Based on this research, and also research in Australia, I have no doubt that a law change to restrict RTDs to 5% strength would in fact lead to more alcohol induced harm, rather than less. Around half of RTD drinkers buy 6% to 8% RTDs, and if these were legislated out of the market, many of them would then purchase spirits instead so they can self-mix drinks.
- The Law Commission itself warned of the dangers of targeting just one sort of alcohol, due to substitution issues. I would urge the Government and Parliament to take heed of the Law Commission advice on this issue.
Again, in summary, I would urge the committee to apply a filter to all proposed measures, measuring how effective it will be in reducing harmful drinking, and how much it will impact people undertaking non harmful drinking. We want measures that maximize the former and minimize the latter.