10 reasons why making it illegal for 18 and 19 year olds to purchase alcohol is the wrong thing to do

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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