Stop punishing responsible drinkers, advocacy group Spirits NZ says

There should be more resources put into helping hazardous drinkers rather than punishing responsible ones, an alcohol advocacy group says.

Robert Brewer, chief executive of Spirits New Zealand, says hazardous drinking has been falling for some time, and believes more resources should be put into helping those who struggle to consume in moderation.

"The critical thing is to look at why that is happening and then to accelerate those behaviour changing things that are causing young people to drink less and more responsibly," he told Newshub.

His comments came after Auckland DHB joined calls for tougher rules around alcohol, including around the legal drinking age. Other DHBs across the country have issued similar statements to Auckland.

Alcohol Healthwatch spokesperson Dr Nicki Jackson says hospitals are under intense pressure from booze, telling Newshub they "suffer a huge financial burden from alcohol... and harm to staff and violence in EDs".

An Auckland DHB spokesperson told NZME treating alcohol-related harm in hospitals "requires significant staff time and resources, including security".

"Our ED staff often face physical abuse from intoxicated patients and visitors," the spokesperson said. "Other patients are impacted, as treatment of patients in less serious conditions is deprioritised."

But Mr Brewer believes introducing stricter rules around alcohol consumption won't be helpful, telling Newshub if the price of alcohol increases, then it will be those who drink moderately that will "pay the price".

"The minority who drink hazardously, they'll still continue to drink hazardously," he said.

A report commissioned by Alcohol Healthwatch last year found that New Zealand had record alcohol consumption in the last three months of 2017.

It found that more alcohol was available per person in the last quarter of 2017 than at any other time in the past five years. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed concern when the report was released.

The Ministry of Health estimates that over 780,000 adults are hazardous drinkers. And 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.

But Mr Brewer believes more young consumers are increasingly choosing to drink moderately and responsibly, and that the real challenge is to ensure this trend not only continues but accelerates.

"This can only be achieved by targeted programmes which understand and amplify the reasons why younger drinkers are choosing to drink better," he said last year

Dr Warwick Bagg, head of the medical programme at the University of Auckland, told Newshub education plays an important role in changing the public's perception around alcohol consumption.

The Government said in December last year that no alcohol law changes are currently being considered.


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