Hopeful common sense on youth drinking

The Herald reports:

The Government is considering making it unlawful for adults to give alcohol to young people without their parents’ consent.

At present, under-18s can be given liquor without consent if they are in private homes or at private functions.

Justice Minister Simon Power says parental consent is one of the liquor issues he is looking at but stresses that a change is not a certainty.

“This is a really delicate balance because National is not in the business of getting into people’s homes on issues like this and telling them how to run their lives,” he said last night.

“But the sheer proliferation of outlets and the time that liquor is now available definitely changes the framing of this debate.”

Mr Power said parents had asked for such a move to help deal with teenage drinking. “I do think there is starting to emerge a view from parents that they would like some more assistance from the law to be able to have a firmer view on how their children are supplied with alcohol.”

At present it is totally legal for an adult to give a 14 year old a bottle of vodka. It is also totally legal for that 14 year old to share it with his or her friends. And they can drink that bottle of vodka in public view on the front lawn of a private residence, and the Police can do nothing about it.

I am supportive of the Government bringing in law changes to make it illegal to supply alcohol to under 18 year olds. The tougher issue is how to define the exceptions. Most people would support a parental exception- you can argue about whether it should be a total exception, or only for kids over a certain age (say 14) and also whether there should be a requirement for any alcohol supplied to be done so in a “responsible” manner.

The other issue is whether parents can authorise another adult (ie parents of a friend) to legally supply alcohol, and does such consent need to be in writing, or implied. In this case one would also expect any supply to be done responsibly, which probably means an adult must supervise – and that adult can be held legally liable for any irresponsible drinking (such as that which has led to 10 teenagers drinking themselves to death).

A law which makes it illegal to supply alcohol to 14 year olds will be far more effective, than making it illegal for  19 year olds to have a glass of wine in a restaurant over dinner.

To that end it was pleasing to see Simon Power state on Q+A that if there was a conscience vote on the purchase age, he would vote to keep it 18.

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