Addiction expert Doug Sellman hits out at David Seymour's 'encouragement' of Crate Day as shocking hospitalisation data revealed

An addictions expert has taken a swipe at ACT leader David Seymour for what he says is 'encouragement' of Crate Day after new data showed alcohol-related hospitalisations spiked for young adults during Crate weekends.

The study, published in Te Ara Tika o te Hauora Hapori / New Zealand Medical Journal today, showed alcohol-related admissions to Waikato emergency departments doubled for people aged 20 to 34 over Crate Day weekends compared to a standard weekend in 2019 and 2020.

It's the first study to examine the burden Crate Day has on hospital emergency departments in Aotearoa.

The results are "consistent with the hypothesis that young adults are more likely to drink to excess on Crate Day than other age groups," despite a lack of causation, said the study's authors.

Emeritus Professor and addictions expert Doug Sellman from the University of Otago, who is also part of Alcohol Action NZ, told Newshub "it is highly likely in my view that these findings would be replicated nationwide."

What is Crate Day?

The first 'Crate Day' started as an unofficial celebration of the first weekend of summer, when punters drink a crate of beer over the course of the day. That's 12 bottles of 745ml - just shy of 9 litres, which contains about 300 grams of pure alcohol.

In 2009, The Rock radio station kicked off the annual binge-drinking tradition and used to heavily promote it, before distancing itself from any association a few years ago. The alcohol industry has also extensively promoted the day.

Mediaworks, the company that owns The Rock, tried to trademark 'Crate Day' three times unsuccessfully.

Newshub has contacted Mediaworks for comment on the findings but has had no response.

Is Crate Day really that bad? And what does David Seymour have to do with it?

The study's researchers said alcohol causes "a myriad of socio-economic and physical health issues in Aotearoa".

They argue Crate Day is a public health concern, due to "the potential alcohol-related harm" from drinking more alcohol "in a high-risk way."

Crate Day also consumes scarce healthcare resources when emergency departments are struggling, they said.

The study's authors say Crate Day is a public health concern due to alcohol-related harm and its impacts on hospital emergency departments.
The study's authors say Crate Day is a public health concern due to alcohol-related harm and its impacts on hospital emergency departments. Photo credit: Newshub.

Sellman told Newshub the psychoneurological effects of such a large dose of alcohol "makes decent young citizens into clumsy and aggressive citizens (drunken drongos), who are at significant risk of causing harm to both themselves and others".

He told Newshub the main issue hospital EDs face is injuries - such as cuts or fractures.

Sellman said our heavy-drinking culture is our collective responsibility, and it's good to see The Rock distancing itself from the annual day.

However, "days like this and the encouragement given to them by leaders such as David Seymour, are another step in individuals’ development of a heavy drinking lifestyle."

In 2021, Seymour posted a tongue-in-cheek video to Facebook, saying his party would make Crate Day a national holiday.

"Yeah, gidday legends. As we know, Crate Day's a great day, and under ACT it would be a national holiday," he said in the two-year-old video.

He did advocate for moderation too, adding "just be careful when you're trying to knock back a dozen warrior bottles - to be safe, be strong, and most importantly - be legendary."

Sellman said "it's concerning that David Seymour seems to be a particular champion of Crate Day - a Day I have previously dubbed 'Drunken Drongo Day.'"

In response, ACT leader David Seymour said "giving me credit for Crate Day is flattering but untrue. The truth is Crate Day was around long before me and will outlast Doug Sellman’s war on fun, too."

"Most people want to enjoy life responsibly, not lecture the majority for the sins of a minority," Seymour told Newshub.

What else did the study show?

The majority (72 percent) of ED admissions happened between 5pm and 3am.

Māori were 1.4 times more likely to be admitted to ED for alcohol on Crate weekend, while non-Māori were 1.6 times more likely to be admitted.

The study's authors suggest this could be because Crate Day might be more integrated into non-Māori, mainly Pākehā culture, but since the Māori population in Aotearoa is younger, they may be more vulnerable to the harms associated with Crate Day.

Males typically account for two-thirds of alcohol-related hospitalisations - whether or not it's Crate Day.

"I've heard directly from a number of front-line emergency workers that Crate Day is one of the most significant days for alcohol harm across Tāmaki Makaurau and the rest of the country," Green Party spokesperson for drug law reform Chloe Swarbrick told Newshub.

The alcohol industry's lobbying

The study comes in the same week RNZ journalist Guyon Espiner revealed Government Ministers were directly lobbied by alcohol companies to ditch a proposed ban on alcohol sponsoring in sport and the alcohol pricing review.

It was announced last week The Government's plan to tackle alcohol marketing, pricing and sponsorship issues will be delayed until April 2024.

Espiner also revealed the Prime Minister's chief of staff Andrew Kirton used to work for a lobbying firm that represented liquor companies. The firm was revealed to have pushed for major changes to a container return scheme that has since been ditched by the government. Auckland Council said the scheme would have likely increased recycling rates considerably.

On Tuesday's edition of AM, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was asked about the report into lobbying and whether or not the scheme was scrapped due to lobbying influences.

Hipkins told host Ryan Bridge his chief-of-staff hadn't spoken to him about the scheme directly before he started in his role in the PM's office.

"The [policy] reprioritisation process had started before Andrew Kirton had started in my office," Hipkins said.

But Sellman said the lobbying revelations are disappointing.

"It is very disappointing to hear the Government capitulating to the alcohol industry, and it is shocking that alcohol lobbyists have so much access to politicians including Cabinet," said Sellman.

"That is not the country that most New Zealanders believe we are."

Alcohol's impact

It's estimated 1-in-20 deaths in Aotearoa are attributable to alcohol, but there are large inequities between ethnic groups.

The alcohol-related death rate for Māori is 2.5 times higher than for non-Māori.

Males have nearly twice the rate of disability-adjusted life years compared to females (the number of years lost due to disease or disability).

Māori males aged 15 to 29 have the most years of life lost due to alcohol compared with any other demographic group.

More than 200 medical conditions are associated with heavy drinking, including a shorter lifespan, hepatic (liver) cirrhosis, several types of cancer, alcohol-use disorder, and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, according to Professor Sellman.

He said depression, domestic violence, and physical injuries are also commonly associated with heavy drinking.

Alcohol is also the most common factor behind patients' and visitors' aggressive behaviour towards ED staff, said the study's authors.

Health issues stemming from alcohol are estimated to cost Aotearoa $5.3 billion every year.

The study's limitations

Professor Sellman told Newshub the study has its limitations, including its small sample size using Waikato patients only.

"However, the findings are consistent with everything else that is well-known - i.e. that we have a significant problem with heavy drinking in young New Zealanders," he told Newshub.

Sellman said Crate Day's impacts may be relatively small compared to the encouragement of heavy drinking in Aotearoa from sports such as rugby and cricket being so intertwined with alcohol.

It's one of the reasons behind Swarbrick's Alcohol Harm Minimisation Bill, which she says contains measures including community control over bottle shops, and removing alcohol-industry sponsorship in sports.

The study's authors also mention that healthcare staff's awareness of Crate Day could be leading to more patients being categorised as alcohol-related admissions.

The data was weighted for age, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic factors.

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