'Action needed' on women's drinking following damning report

Alcohol experts are calling for change after a report found nearly a quarter of women are continuing to drink through pregnancy.

Researchers looked at data collected in the long-running Growing Up in New Zealand study. They found while 71 percent of women drank alcohol before becoming pregnant, 23 percent continued through the first trimester and 13 percent through the entire pregnancy.

Seven percent consumed four or more drinks a session during the first trimester - when the damage is worst - and 1 percent beyond that.

Groups across the spectrum say there needs to be change, but disagree on the method.

Nick Leggett, head of lobby group the Alcohol Beverages Council told The AM Show he believes a prohibition based approach would not work.

"I heard this morning with this release that, the Otago University, well one of the professors was saying limit the sale of alcohol to women of childbearing age.

"I mean I think we have to trust people to be sensible and make the right choices for themselves and that's about education and awareness."

He said the best method would be to encourage educating young people more about alcohol, including drinking in moderation and how to pour a standard drink.

Dr Nicki Jackson, director of alcohol harm reduction group Alcohol Health Watch, also said people need to be educated about drinking, but wanted to see other areas improved as well.

She said women were not aware of the dangers posed by drinking, which includes an increased risk of breast cancer.

"A third of breast cancers begin from about one to two standard drinks a day," she said.

"New Zealanders' don't know that risk around cancer, they need to know that risk, they need to be informed, [and] we need to have those labels on the bottles."

Dr Jackson said previous law changes around alcohol had been "tinkering" and there needs to be greater change to alcohol taxation, access and marketing.

She believes marketing is problematic as the current system did not keep up with advertising and changing technology.

"We have a system in New Zealand where you have to make a complaint about alcohol advertising, by the time you've made a complaint the ad's gone, the impact has been had," she said.

"So that system is not working, we need to regulate alcohol advertising, a report was presented to government in 2014, four years [later] we're still waiting for a response."

The last time there was major change to alcohol laws in New Zealand was the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

Dr Jackson said something needs to be done now, because there has been little progress on women's drinking since the new laws.

"We've seen increases in women's' drinking since our new laws came into place, Māori women have increased rapidly every year since our new laws came into effect."

"They overtook European men in hazardous drinking, that's not an equity that we want to be closing."