New Zealand doesn’t have a culture of youth drinking – Andy Towers

Massey University’s Dr Andy Towers is tired of hearing that New Zealand has a ‘youth drinking culture’, he writes in the Dominion Post. Drinking isn’t a ‘youth culture issue’, it’s a New Zealand culture issue.

An excerpt (read in full):

A potted history of New Zealand shows we’ve always had an alcohol problem. In colonial New Zealand, alcohol was plentiful and drinking laws permissive. This gave rise to considerable levels of abuse which, itself, inspired a strong temperance movement dedicated to combating this drinking culture. This strong anti-drinking sentiment helped introduce the 6 o’clock swill during World War I as a means to support war efforts. However, instead of reducing alcohol use, it inspired a nation of drinkers to embrace binge drinking.

From the early to mid-20th century we introduced laws intended to divorce drinking from entertainment and “civilised” culture. Drinking establishments could no longer provide food or entertainment, could not serve women and could not employ women as servers. However, instead of reducing our desire to drink, these laws simply shaped what we see today as New Zealand’s male-oriented, beer-focused, binge drinking culture.

In the mid to late 20th century New Zealand saw the proverbial light. We axed 6 o’clock closing, allowed food and entertainment back into drinking establishments, started serving women and sought to liberalise our restrictive alcohol laws. We made alcohol more affordable, more available, and advertised more widely than ever before. We eventually reduced the legal purchase age from 20 to 18. Unfortunately, this didn’t change our drinking habits. Instead we’ve seen the average amount New Zealanders drink each year rise from 5.3 litres in 1960 to 9.1 litres in 2014.

In 2012 we had an opportunity to change. The Law Commission had reviewed our history of drinking and it recommended substantial law changes to reduce alcohol-related harm. These recommendations were wholeheartedly supported by much of the general public, many community groups, and almost all health professionals and the police.

What happened? The politicians we voted for decided against change. All of the evidence-based recommendations for change were ignored, including those that would reduce harmful outcomes in youth.

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