24 Aug 2010

Teen drink changes 'could be challenging to police'

3:16 pm on 24 August 2010

The police union says a new law that would restrict the provision of alcohol to teenagers in private homes is sensible but could prove challenging in practice.

The Government's proposed alcohol law reforms, unveiled on Monday, include making it an offence to supply alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 without the permission of their parent or guardian.

Police association president Greg O'Connor says the law change is a good one and will empower parents who don't want their children drinking.

He says it is difficult to say how it will work in practice until the details are revealed, but will most likely be enforced only when something goes wrong.

"It's hard to imagine a situation where police are actually going to be policing private premises, looking for who's drinking and who's providing it.

"However, in the breach or where there are other problems such as out of control parties it will give police other tools particularly where the alcohol is provided by those that are running the party."

The Government is also proposing a split purchase age of 18 in bars, clubs and restaurants, and 20 in off-licences including supermarkets.

Labour calls for public say on minimum alcohol price

The Labour Party is calling on the Government to give the public a say on whether there should be minimum pricing for alcohol.

The changes stopped short of setting a minimum price or raising the excise tax on alcohol as had been recommended by the Law Commission, however, the Government says it will examine a minimum price regime.

Labour leader Phil Goff says low prices encourage excessive drinking. He says if the Government included a minimum price option in its legislation, the public could have a say during the select committee process.

Prime Minister John Key says liquor prices would have to be hiked significantly to have a deterrent effect.

Advertising changes 'difficult'

The Government says it has rejected the Law Commission's recommendations for strict controls on alcohol advertising because they would be too difficult.

The Commission had proposed to limit advertising, over time, to simple product information, including price.

However in Cabinet papers, Justice Minister Simon Power says regulating alcohol advertising is difficult, and its effect uncertain.

He says far-reaching changes are premature, but restrictions could be considered in the future if the evidence supported them.

Cabinet has agreed to some limits, including a ban on advertising that appeals to underage drinkers.

Reforms won't change heavy drinking culture

Professor Doug Sellman, the head of the National Addiction Centre, says the focus on youth drinking misses the point, given only 56,000 of the 700,000 heavy drinkers are in the 16-19 age group.

He says the Government's approach to liquor law reform won't make a difference to the heavy drinking culture

Alcohol Healthwatch says by omitting changes to the pricing of alcohol and its promotion, and by watering down a rise in the legal purchasing age, the measures fail to target what is most important.

That's backed by the Cancer Society, but family doctors say the package is pragmatic.

Medical Association chairman Dr Peter Foley says doctors are pleased the Government intends implementing so many of the Law Commission's recommendations but would like price increases to have been included.

A specialist in emergency medicine at Wellington Hospital, Dr Paul Quigley, says it's disappointing price isn't part of the mix, though more responsibility for parents is positive.

"We see, time and time again, young adults, only 15 years of age or even younger, who have been supplied alcohol through other minors or even at parties that are so-called supervised, and yet here they are intoxicated in my emergency department."

The Salvation Army's social programme director, Major Campbell Roberts, says the Government has missed an opportunity by failing to increase alcohol tax, limit advertising or lower the blood-alcohol level.

The Government has taken up 126 of the 153 recommendations made by the Law Commission.