Coro­ner calls for higher drink­ing age

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Fol­low­ing the death of Blen­heim teenager Ge­orge Hol­land in a drink-driv­ing in­ci­dent, a coro­ner is call­ing for the Gov­ern­ment to re­turn the min­i­mum al­co­hol pur­chase age to 20 – with no ex­cep­tions.

Hol­land was killed in the early hours of Au­gust 6, 2017, when he failed to give way at a one-way bridge in Marl­bor­ough.

Coro­ner David Robin­son said the crash could have been pre­vented if Hol­land ad­hered to zero al­co­hol for driv­ers un­der 20.

Hol­land had 133 mil­ligrams of al­co­hol per 100 millil­itres of blood – the le­gal limit for adults is 50mg – and MDMA (ec­stasy) and cannabis in his sys­tem.

In Robin­son’s find­ings, re­leased on Wed­nes­day, he re­ferred to one study that found ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly’’ more al­co­holin­volved crashes amongst 15 to 19-year-olds in the four years after the al­co­hol age was re­duced in De­cem­ber 1999. While a more re­cent study found the num­ber of al­co­hol-re­lated crashes in this age group in­creased from 102 in 2014, to 142 in 2017.

‘‘There ap­pears to be in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence of a di­rect link be­tween the low­er­ing of the al­co­hol pur­chas­ing age in 1999 and an in­crease in the in­ci­dence of in­jury and fa­tal ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing al­co­hol im­paired driv­ers aged 15-19 years,’’ Robin­son said.

Pro­fes­sor Sally Cass­well, a codi­rec­tor of the SHORE and Whariki Re­search Cen­tre at Massey Univer­sity’s Col­lege of Health, said ar­gu­ments were nu­mer­ous on both sides but no one pol­icy would solve the prob­lems.

‘‘If you have a drug widely avail­able, like al­co­hol is, you are go­ing to have harm,’’ she said. ‘‘We know 18 to 24 are the heav­i­est drink­ing groups in our coun­try. When you look at the whole pop­u­la­tion, half of them use al­co­hol in heavy drink­ing oc­ca­sions, but in the youth it’s over 70 per cent.’’

Cass­well agreed New Zealand’s drink­ing cul­ture needed a shake up, and the best way to change was through leg­is­la­tion.

When asked if the Gov­ern­ment would con­sider the coro­ner’s sug­ges­tion, Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Lit­tle said: ‘‘The Gov­ern­ment is not look­ing at the Sale and Sup­ply of Al­co­hol Act at this point.’’

Pro­fes­sor Doug Sell­man, of Otago Univer­sity’s Na­tional Ad­dic­tion Cen­tre, urged the Gov­ern­ment to lis­ten to the coro­ner.

Sell­man said in­creas­ing the age would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the ‘‘dis­con­nected heavy drink­ing cul­ture’’ amongst young peo­ple.

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