Addressing our alcohol problem

Saturday night in an Accident and Emergency ward cannot be a pleasant time. People who have had accidents, drunks or people off their heads on drugs, many with children. Some will be volatile and angry. Others will be too badly hurt to be of much use.

Spare a thought for the doctors and the nurses on that night, or any other busy night. Spare a thought for the businesses having to clean up after a night of drunken mayhem the bottles and the vomit and any damage that might have occurred on or near their premises. It is all too common isn’t it?

You might be tempted to blame the bars. On occasion you will be justified as there will always be a bar or restaurant or two that fail to carry out good host behaviour and need a reminder by way of a fine or a visit from the blue arm of the law. It would – for example – be embarrassing to have to close because the kitchen hand has gone home and there is no food available from the bar, but that is the law. The very vast majority though take their roles seriously and look to spot and deal with any inappropriate behaviour before it can escalate.

So in the blame game who does one turn on next? Do you turn on the councils that make the bylaws? Perhaps, but before we look at them, perhaps let us look at where people are buying alcohol from and what they are doing with it. For some drinking at a bar is considered pricey and they buy alcohol in bulk from the liquor stores. A 15 pack of beer will set you back $19. With a couple of mates, you load up with alcohol and then you decide to head for town to continue partying and get more alcohol on board. “Get wasted” was the expression commonly used when I was at University.

But in councils across New Zealand we are seeing a tendency to introduce bylaws that punish the wrong people who comply with the law and the instructions of bar staff. We are tending to see a fear of upsetting authorities amongst the people who introduce these laws of the hospitality sector, which employs so many people and gives an outlet for a bit of socializing. I feel that the issue is generally not the bars, but the availability of alcohol outside of these premises – do we really need wine and beer week for example at Pak N Save? Do we really need two supermarkets and four bars all within 400 metres of each other? You can find such a situation in Papanui, Christchurch. That is almost a sort of saturation level in terms of availability.

I believe there are only two places that should be allowed to sell alcohol:

  1. Bars/restaurants/etc
  2. Liquor stores/boutique beer/wine/whiskey stores etc

Hear the outrage emanating from supermarkets, where wine and beer will no longer be able to be sold were my suggestions to ever take hold. Although all of them by law require people under 25 to present ID, that has not stopped the odd person who is not of legal age slipping through the net. Thus many supermarkets now have their check out counters set to require a supervisor to come and clear the product being purchased when it is swiped past the infrared scanner.

I think one reason why we have drunken youths getting into trouble is their exposure to alcohol every time they visit a supermarket. It is a socially cool thing to do – to drink alcohol at parties if you are a underage person and there is a lot of peer pressure from your mates and fellow students to do so. None of which necessarily makes it right. On televisions, in the newspapers, on the radio and internet, supermarkets are able to advertize alcohol.

Since alcohol stores cannot sell to minors, theoretically the only people who will be in the stores are those of legal age intending to purchase alcohol. All well and good, but like supermarkets, the bars and so forth, even liquor stores have the odd incident where someone who is not of legal age slips through.

But if the advertizing is not in front of the eyes of the vulnerable underage bracket who are so impressionable, will they talk about it among mates? And if the supermarkets they are often in looking for chocolates or confectionary after school or helping Mum and Dad with the shopping, no longer stock alcohol in front of their faces, the temptation to see if they can slip a bottle through the check outs without their age being noticed is no longer there.

So maybe the answer to the question “who should be allowed to sell alcohol” is “not supermarkets”.

Sounds good to me.

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