New Zealand's alcohol problem getting worse - survey

Raising the price and not the glass is being seen as the only way to curb our alcohol problems.

Data from the Ministry of Health's annual survey has found the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who consume six or more drinks on occasion is at 21.1 percent, up from 16.5.

And the number of adults who drink at all is up from 78.7 to 80.3 percent. A fifth are now classified as hazardous drinkers, slightly up on last year. Of men aged 15 or older, 18.3 percent consume six or more standard drinks in a single session every week - up from 16.3 percent. 

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson says raising the price of alcohol is the most effective option.

"The strongest tool that we have in our toolbox to reduce consumption, and we haven't used it. We also need to address the saturation of alcohol outlets in our communities...

"So many alcohol products are sold for under $1 per standard drink, and research shows that this fuels heavy and frequent drinking, especially among our young adults. Cheap alcohol, the high numbers of alcohol outlets in our neighbourhoods and the saturation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, is preventing our country from making a meaningful difference to our mental health and wellbeing."

Dr Jackson believes alcohol sports sponsorships need to go and the number of outlets needs to come down, but nothing has been done in recent years.

"The Law Commission said we need to address the increasing affordability of alcohol in our country, reduce the number of liquor outlets and do something about alcohol advertising and sponsorship - we haven't done any of those things."

The last major overhaul of alcohol laws, 2012's Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, were labelled a failure by doctors earlier this year.

Justice Minister Andrew Little in August said a review will take place within "one to two years".

Dr Jackson says because there have been no hard-line changes, it is getting worse.

"If anything we're absolutely going backwards. We've got more New Zealanders choosing to drink, and at the risky end we've got more New Zealanders having heavy drinking episodes at least weekly."

There are around 12,000 liquor outlets in New Zealand. Around 85 percent of applications in Auckland for a licence are granted, Auckland Regional Public Health told Newshub in August.

A University of Otago study earlier this year found the average Kiwi loses about a week's worth of productivity due to alcohol, costing the country $1.65 billion. 

The Ministry of Health survey also found smoking levels are continuing to slide downwards, but there's been no change among adults aged 35-44 and 65-74 since 2012. There are fewer Maori smoking now than then - 34 percent, down from 40.2 percent - but one-in-four Pacific Islanders continues to smoke, unchanged since 2012.

Smoking rates are closely linked with poverty, even after adjusting for age, gender and ethnicity - the poorest are 3.6 times more likely to smoke than the richest.

Obesity has also tracked up, with 30.9 percent of Kiwi adults now obese, up from 28.6 percent in 2012. Again, adjusting for other differences, the poorest are more likely than the richest to be obese.