A four-point “call for action on alcohol”, issued today, has been signed by the heads of general and specialist groups of doctors and nurses, academic researchers and the heads of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army churches.
It calls on the incoming government after the September 20 election to implement Law Commission proposals from 2010 to raise alcohol taxes by 50 per cent, impose a minimum price for alcohol to stop price discounting, and phase out alcohol sponsorship and advertising except for “objective product information”.
The 50 per cent tax hike would result in a 10 per cent increase in retail prices of alcoholic drinks. National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman, who organised the statement, said such a price increase would cut consumption by 5 per cent.
The Herald embeds their full statement, available here.
They open with a quote,
“If alcohol were a communicable disease, a national emergency would be declared.”
Later, they write,
The argument is often heard that policies to slow the supply of alcohol through increasing price or reducing physical availability diminish personal freedom and autonomy of “ordinary New Zealanders”. It is time we moved from the self-interested and sometimes destructive “freedom to” (… drink as much as you want; supply alcohol to your children’s friends; promote and sell alcohol anywhere any time) and consider the “freedom from” the harms caused by heavy drinking.
Those two together do get to the crux of things. The expansionist view of public health deems personal consumption decisions as akin to a communicable disease, puts no value on that individuals derive consumption benefits from alcohol, and largely ignores existing regulatory constraints including:
- If you’re at a bar, and you’re intoxicated, the bar can face pretty substantial penalties for continuing to serve you. Maybe you can drink “as much as you want” at home, but you can’t do it in a licensed venue. I’m not sure what the prohibitionists will come up with to ban people from getting drunk at home, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t come up with something.
- The latest round of regulatory changes prohibited you from serving alcohol to your children’s friends if they’re minors unless you have a permission note from their parents.
- You cannot promote alcohol in advertising on television outside of the watershed hours; you cannot sell alcohol outside of the permitted and constrained hours that vary from venue to venue and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The ‘sophisticated’ alcohol culture promised twenty-five years ago by advocates of the liberalising Sale of Liquor Act 1989 has turned out to be an increasingly endemic heavy binge drinking culture in New Zealand [De Bonnaire et al 2005; Wells et al 2006]. The cost of alcohol harm is estimated to run into billions of dollars, money that would be much better spent on community benefits.
- Scotland’s parliament has legislated for a minimum price per standard unit of alcohol of 50p, to eliminate ultra-cheap products, although this is now being challenged in various courts by the alcohol industry.
- Finland, like other Scandinavian countries, has excise tax on alcohol about twice as high as New Zealand. [Note from Eric: the Productivity Commission noted New Zealand’s particularly high alcohol prices. Yeah, the Scandanavians have high taxes, but we’re hardly cheap.]
- The whole of the USA has a minimum drinking age for alcohol of 21 years.
- Ireland has off-licence trading hours of 10.30am – 10pm Monday – Saturday, 12.30 10pm on Sundays. California has a blanket closure of on-licences at 2am.
- The South African government has recently formulated legislation to ban all alcohol advertising and sponsorship, in even more stringent fashion than has existed in France for more than 20 years, although is now bracing itself for attack by the alcohol industry during the upcoming parliamentary process.
- Most countries of the world have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) drink-driving limit of 0.05 or less, including Australia. Countries with a BAC of 0.02 or 0.03 include Sweden, Norway, Poland and Japan.
- Norway has resisted the influence of the European Union in maintaining strong regulation of alcohol in the face of trade agreements.
Ok. So Scotland, Finland, the US, Ireland, South Africa, France, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Poland and Japan are singled out as being super-awesome anti-alcohol campaigners. Let’s check some outcomes.
First, let’s look at age-standardised prevalence of alcohol use disorders. The WHO puts New Zealand at 3.4% prevalence, lower than all countries in the Western Pacific Region other than Brunei (1.7%), Japan (3.3%), Malaysia (2.3%), and Singapore (0.9%). See p. 320 of the appendix. Were New Zealand in Europe, we’d be much lower than average: we’re lower than any European country other than Italy (1.2%), Malta (3.2%), Netherlands (1.3%), Romania (2.6%), Spain (1.4%), Tajikistan (0.8%), and Turkey (2.6%).
- Seeing what you want to see: Minimum pricing edition
- More drinking stats
- Increasing alcohol excise is great, if you assume the right things
- On Stillman SHOREs: the effects of reducing NZ’s alcohol purchase age
- Drinking time
- Drinking Ed
- More binge drinking reports
- Minimum pricing
- Minimum alcohol pricing and economic rents
- Markets hate profits: minimum pricing edition
- Petrol tax:speeding :: alcohol tax:binge drinking
- The Omniscience Constraint
- Public health and the regulatory state
- Minimum pricing
- Minimum prices and mortality risk
- Evidence and minimum pricing
- About that Canadian study…
- Alcohol minimum pricing
- A hopefully concluding note on the price elasticity of alcohol