I was neutral in the debate on lowering the drinking age back in 1999. There were arguments on both sides. Some European countries manage a mature, responsible and family based attitude to alcohol that is much more healthy than a heavy handed regulatory framework. It would have been nice if NZ could have got there.
Ten years later it’s time to admit that we didn’t. As a culture we failed, and alcohol related problems have skyrocketed:
The figures […] show alcohol-related death rates have skyrocketed due to what experts describe as a binge-drinking culture entrenched in Kiwi youth. Coroners have noted alcohol as a feature of the deaths of 1100 Kiwis over the past decade.
Numbers across the country have risen from 41 in 2000 to 254 in 2008. In 2009, the figure sits at 137, but is incomplete as some inquests are still open.
Last month, Chief Coroner Neil MacLean released statistics showing 12 teenagers had died from binge-drinking since July 1, 2007. The issue was highlighted after the death of Auckland schoolboy James Webster, who died in his sleep last month after drinking straight vodka. …
National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said the figures were “very concerning”. The rising death rate correlated with increased heavy drinking among Kiwi youth after the lowering of the buying age in 1999.
Depending on how you define “alcohol related” death, some estimates are much higher, up to more than 1000 per year. Hundreds of medical professionals have called for the drinking age to be raised. The Law Commission has published a detailed report (“Alcohol in our lives:
Curbing the harm”) also calling for the age to be raised to 20. Other comments are here. And a range of “Prominent Kiwis” have joined the calls for drinking culture reform:
Two former governors-general are among a group of prominent Kiwis calling on politicians to shake up New Zealand’s alcohol laws. Led by former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves, the group will present a six-point statement at Parliament tomorrow, as the Government considers its response to a Law Commission report on alcohol issued earlier this year. …
Sir Paul said the group would urge the Government “to make the most of the current once-in-a generation-opportunity to find better solutions to our alcohol crisis”. The Law Commission’s review of alcohol legislation was a unique opportunity to change New Zealand’s drinking culture, he said.
“Positive new alcohol legislation needs to be introduced with urgency to deal with an increasingly out-of- control situation of heavy drinking in New Zealand.” The report recommended increasing the tax on alcohol, restricted advertising, raising the drinking age and lowering the legal blood alcohol limit.
Commission president Geoffrey Palmer has urged Parliament to enact the whole package of recommendations “rather than cherry picking the more politically palatable elements”. However, Prime Minister John Key has already ruled out an increase in alcohol tax and claimed the public was not in the mood for wholesale change.
I think the PM is wrong. The case for substantial change seems to be open and shut, and I think that the country (always excepting the “Talkback Taliban” of Kiwiblog and the likes) would accept it. Raise the drinking age, and enact the other measures needed to make it effective. Come on Key, show some leadership.