Drinkers will replace RTDS with straight spirits, say retailers
Proposed changes to the rules around the sale of alcohol have left Matamata liquor store owners frustrated.
The Alcohol Reform Bill – which will soon go before Parliament for a third time – would see a new split drinking age, with a purchase age of 18 in bars and restaurants and 20 at liquor stores and supermarkets.
The bill also proposes to ban off-licence stores from selling RTDs with more than 6 per cent alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.
Matamata Cheep Liquor owner Neville Clothier said it was unfair to have one rule for liquor stores and another for bars.
“I can’t understand the split age. They should choose one or the other,” he said.
“Why are they trying to make it easier for bars and harder for liquor stores? It should be the same rules for everyone – we all have the same manager’s licence.”
A ban on RTDs with higher alcohol content would see a shift towards young people buying straight spirits to mix themselves, said Mr Clothier.
“It’s too expensive to buy RTDs at a bar, so they will buy a bottle of that stuff instead and then there’s no control at all over what per- centage they make it.”
He was concerned that changing the buying age had the potential to “cause more trouble” for liquor stores, with 18 and 19year-olds finding ways around the law.
“You’re going to get all the older ones coming in and buying it for them and will probably get a bit more stealing as well,” he said.
Staff at Matamata Super Liquor, who declined to be named, were also unimpressed with the idea of a split purchasing age, labelling it as “clear as mud”.
The split was likely to leave customers con- fused and the Government needed to stop tip- toeing around the issue, said one staff member.
“They need to come up with one age and stick with it, so everyone understands and knows what’s going on.”
Another staff member was concerned the legislation would give young people more incentive to drink away from home, which could lead to them drinking and driving.
While alcohol retailers contemplated the implications of the Alcohol Reform Bill, others questioned whether the proposed changes go far enough.
Stephen Prebble, who works in alcohol and drug assessment and intervention, said the reform was an opportunity to put some real measures in place
to protect young people.
“The firmer we are now, the better,” he said.
“A lot of Kiwis drink responsibly, but for a certain percentage of people, alcohol is a problem.”
Mr Prebble said the Government was imposing increasingly strict regulations around the sale of tobacco, and should be enforcing the same measures for alcohol.
“Tobacco use takes the lives of an estimated 100 Kiwis a week. Alcohol takes the lives of up to 20 a week.
“But alcohol-related domestic violence, rape, assaults, car accidents and fetal alcohol syndrome, make alcohol a far more socially damaging drug than tobacco,” he said.
Last month, the Labour Party tabled an amendment to the Government’s Bill, proposing to set a minimum price on the sale of alcohol.
Pricing was a major factor in the accessibility of alcohol, particularly among young drinkers, said Mr Prebble.
“Putting measures into place here, when the damage can be very high and dependence can begin to develop, would help prevent long-term negative effects further in their lives, and of those around them,” he said.
If the Government was to raise tax on the sale of alcohol, they could then invest that money into countering some of the harm it causes, he said.
Mr Prebble was also in support of Labour’s latest call to further restrict advertising of alcohol and said the overall purchasing age should be restored to 20.
“I think just cracking down on accessibility is a big thing,” he said.
Sergeant Graham McGurk said 90 per cent of all violence was associated with alcohol.
“The majority of domestic incidents and acts of violence [Matamata police] deal with are fuelled by alcohol,” he said.
“That has never changed. What has changed is the availability of RTDs, which are purposely designed and marketed to young people.”
RTDs were easily available, cheap, brightly coloured and easy to drink, making them a common choice for young drinkers, said Mr McGurk.
Independent Liquor estimated that RTDs made up 12 per cent of the total alcohol market in New Zealand by volume.
Up to 180 million RTDs were sold in New Zealand each year, and more than half of these had an alcohol content of 6 per cent or more.
Mr McGurk said he would like to see stronger restrictions on the availability and marketing of RTDs.
The Government initially proposed restricting all RTDs to no more than 5 per cent alcohol content.
But this was later amended to 6 per cent, with higher strength drinks permitted in restaurants and bars.
The reform also included legislation which prohibits the promotion or advertising of alcohol that would be likely to have “special appeal” to young people.
The Alcohol Reform Bill is expected to have its third reading in Parliament later this month.
nicola.stewart@wrcn. co.nz Reform: New legislation about the sale of alcohol in New Zealand will go before Parliament again later this month.