Drink lessons from across the ditch
Alcohol consumption is a causal factor in 200 different medical conditions and kills 3.3 million people every year, according to the World Health Organisation.
There is no safe level of consumption in relation to several common cancers, and whether there are cardiovascular benefits of moderate drinking is increasingly uncertain.
Experts convened under the auspices of the WHO have reviewed the international scientific evidence on policy interventions to reduce alcoholrelated harm.
They conclude the evidence supports five broad approaches (the 5 Ps): increasing the price of alcohol, reducing the promotion of alcohol, having a purchase age of 20 years or higher, policing of drink-driving, and reducing alcohol’s physical availability.
The price of alcohol has failed to keep pace with incomes in New Zealand and a drink can cost as little as 30 cents in supermarkets.
In relation to promotion, the Government has buried a report from a committee it set up, which advised it to limit broadcast advertising of alcohol to children, and to eliminate alcohol sponsorship of sport.
New Zealanders will recall that in 2012 the Parliament failed to increase the minimum purchase age from 18, despite two-thirds of MPs favouring an increase.
The Government recently reduced the drink-driving limit, finally falling into line with global best practice (a limit of .05 g/dL was introduced in the 1970s and 1980s in most Australian states). We will have to see whether the watering down of penalties for offences in the .05 to .08 g/dL range reduces the deterrence effect seen in jurisdictions with stiffer penalties.
It is too early to tell whether recent law changes are giving communities more influence over the physical availability of alcohol, but the early signs are not positive. The industry has mounted legal challenges against Local Alcohol Policies that may deter councils from adopting effective countermeasures.
In my talk to the Royal Society of New Zealand Wanaka branch on Thursday, I will explain how recent events in Australia offer insights into how policy reform relating to physical availability can occur, and produce health benefits, despite the efforts of the alcohol industry and other vested interests.
The international evidence for last drinks regulations is compelling: trading extensions of as little as one hour increase harm, and restrictions reduce harm.
New Zealand should consider reducing the current on-license alcohol sales limit of 4am to reduce assault and other harms.
❚ Professor Kypros is a senior research fellow in alcohol-related injury epidemiology in the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health. He speaks at the Presbyterian Community Centre, 91 Tenby Street, Wanaka on Thursday October 20 from 6pm.
Professor Kypros Kypri of the University of Newcastle.