Calls to introduce minimum alcohol pricing to New Zealand

There are calls to introduce minimum alcohol prices to New Zealand after a similar scheme was introduced to Scotland on Tuesday (local time).

In an effort to combat youth and binge-drinking, every 10 millilitres of pure alcohol must now cost more than 50 pence (NZ$0.97). Strong white cider and cheap vodka and whisky will be hit hardest by the price increases.

The Scottish government claims the minimum pricing will decrease consumption and save lives - and health groups want it here as well.

"If you do have an issue with it, even in pockets, and people are drinking very high-strength cheap alcohol I would definitely say it is something you should consider," Dr Christine Goodall, director of the Scottish charity Medics Against Violence told RadioLIVE.

Statistics NZ figures show the drinking habits for more than a third of people aged 18-24 could be potentially hazardous - regularly consuming six more drinks in a single session.

Police statistics show around one-third of all apprehensions involve a suspect under the influence of alcohol, and it's a factor in half of all violent crimes.

New Zealand alcohol lobby group Alcohol Healthwatch is focused on reducing alcohol-related harm in New Zealand. Executive Director Dr Nicki Jackson says we "must take action on the harm that cheap alcohol does to our country".

"Every year in New Zealand, alcohol-related harm costs $5 billion per year. The Ministry of Justice estimated that this figure would be reduced through minimum unit pricing," she says.

"New Zealand research shows heavy drinkers are twice as likely to buy low-priced products. Minimum Unit Pricing targets these heavy drinkers whilst having minimal impact on moderate or low-risk drinkers."

The Drug Foundation says if a minimum price of $1.20 was set per standard drink, a 750ml bottle of wine with 13 percent alcohol content would cost a minimum of $9.24 - which most do already - but a 3L cask that would normally sell for $23 would now cost at least $36.

A 2014 Ministry of Justice alcohol pricing policies report found net savings to society over a ten year period of $624m when minimum prices were set at $1.20 per standard drink.

However The New Zealand Initiative research fellow Jenesa Jeram warns minimum alcohol unit pricing policies are "poorly targeted" and "disproportionately raise prices for low and average income earners".

"Rich people will be able to buy their champagne and whiskey at the same price, but those who have a penchant for Double Brown or an affordable bottle of wine will face the price hike," she says.

The Ministry of Justice report also found targeting only low price beverages would only have a "modest effect" on harmful consumption, and recommended that a minimum price not be considered for introduction for five years.

Ms Jeram notes there isn't much evidence minimum prices would change people's behaviours.

"There is not a huge amount of evidence on alcohol minimum pricing, let alone evidence to affirm it will work," she told Newshub.

"The evidence that matters is whether those who are suffering the most harm from alcohol will change their behaviour accordingly. At the moment, it's not clear that heavy drinkers will be deterred by higher prices."

Alcohol Healthwatch disagrees, arguing in parts of Canada, "this policy has reduced crime, alcohol-related deaths and Emergency Department admissions, as well as chronic health harms related to alcohol use".

But Ms Jeram warns minimum pricing could drive hazardous drinkers to even more dangerous substances.

"Those who engage in harmful drinking are probably most at risk of switching to more harmful alternatives or substances," she told Newshub.

"Synthetic drugs or methylated spirits could be substitutes for those who are price sensitive but suffer from alcohol addiction."