To raise or to lower the drinking age?

In 1999, during the dying days of the National-led Government of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley announced that the minimum drinking age of New Zealanders would be lowered. At that time it was 20 for the purchase of alcohol from stores and 18 for those going to the pub with parents for a drink.

Many of my fellow students at Burnside High were ecstatic. But there were also several – myself included – who did not agree with the lowering of the age. One of the others who disagreed with the announcement said at the time that she could see major problems with youths drinking to excess, drunken violence, mixing it with drugs. She was right then, and nearly 20 years later, I think she is definitely right now about the problems it would cause.

Doctors working in Accident and Emergency Departments all over New Zealand, and at medical centres would agree that there is a major problem with how we drunk then. They would still agree today that there is a major drinking problem in New Zealand. The drunken louts who come in, completely smashed from altercations that were powered by too much alcohol on board, assaults, disorderly behaviour and so forth are probably no different from the ones that were seen with trepidation by doctors in the years before the drinking age was lowered. I can sympathize with them about the problem, but I think it is how we are drinking that is the problem; how we perceive drinking and how the role of media advertising are the issues that need to be addressed.

My opposition was simpler. I simply didn’t think there was any real case for lowering it, and that the Government was just doing it to attract youth votes in the knowledge it was probably going to – and did – lose the general election.

Do we need as is the case in Papanui, Christchurch, three bars (Rose and Thistle, West Coast Tavern and The Phoenix)and two supermarkets all within five minutes walk of each other? I am not sure that we do. Especially since the supermarkets undercut by the simple nature of their business and their competitors, the incomes of the licenced establishments by selling beer and wine at prices that bars and restaurants would struggle to match.

People say that criminal violence will target alcohol stores if there were steps to reduce the availability of alcohol. I disagree. Amend the law to enable 5 or 10 year bans from licenced stores selling alcohol and similar for bars; a 3 strikes law for stores that do not comply with age vetting with instant loss of licence after the third strike and a requirement that photos of minors or others committing offences in the store premises be displayed in a prominent place.

But also there needs to be better education. Since alcohol is commonly drunk by teens long before they reach age 18, drug, alcohol and sex education should be compulsory in Year 10 Social Studies and legal studies or an equivalent course in civics should be taken in place of one of the option subjects in Year 12.

So, it is with cautious approval that I note the policy of The Opportunities Party to tackle our drinking problem. How much public support New Zealand’s newest political party gets for its policy though will be decided on election day.


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