But what about the cost

Claire Trevett in the NZ Herald reports:

A report from the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser says raising the drinking age to 21 and increasing alcohol prices are two of the most effective ways to address youth drinking problems.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman yesterday released a paper on social problems facing young people, which Prime Minister John Key requested after the death from alcohol poisoning of King’s College student James Webster in May last year.

Si Peter’s report is here.

I’d make the initial point that the tragic death of James Webster would not have been affected by a change in the alcohol purchase age. That is very clear.

Secondly I’d concede that raising the drinking age and increasing the price of alcohol is likely to reduce harm from alcohol. If you made the purchase age 25 and made the cost of a glass of beer $20, then there would be far less harm from alcohol.

Likewise if you really wanted to lower the road toll, you’d engineer all cars so they can not go faster than say 40 kms/hr.

So why don’t we do these things? Because while it reduces harm for some people, it also imposes costs and removes choice from other people.

The 318 report from Sir Peter is a very useful piece of work. You need good science to tell you what may and may not work. But the science is only an input.

Science could tell you that if we banned fast food outlets from New Zealand, we might be a healthier country. If we passed a law making it mandatory for people who weigh over 95 kgs to go to the gym twice a week, then we might also be a healthier country.

But most people don’t want to live in a country like that. They want a country where responsible people are not punished for the decisions of irresponsible people.

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