Former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley says it's time for another national debate on alcohol laws

Dame Jenny Shipley lowered the drinking age from 20 to 18 when she was Prime Minister in 1999.

She says she has no regrets but says it's time for another national debate on the subject.

It was 1999 and there were queues on a Tuesday night as 18-year-old Kiwis now had a pass to drink booze - legally that is.

Jenny Shipley was Prime Minister at the time - and backed the younger drinking age.

"I went into a hotel and I was underage," she said in Parliament back then.

But almost 23 years on, it's clear New Zealand has a youth drinking problem.

Shipley still thinks it was the right thing to do to bring the drinking age down from 20 to 18.

"I would do it again... and I would oppose anyone who sought to put it up," she told Newshub's National Correspondent Patrick Gower.

"These kids can marry, they can have babies, they can go to war. They run companies. We're not going to tell them, surely, that they are not old enough to make a decision."

Interviewed by Gower in conjunction with his documentary Patrick Gower: On Booze, Dame Jenny said she believes it's time for another national debate on our booze laws and has outlined specific policy areas to look at, starting with supermarkets selling alcohol.

"I never supported that interestingly. I felt that normalising liquor with food was an error," she said.

She questioned whether alcohol advertising should be more regulated. For example, alcohol is now packaged in what looks like kids' juice boxes - but they are vodka martinis with 4 percent alcohol.

"It makes me think of the milk for schools thing," one member of the public told Newshub.

"I don't think it's a good idea to have alcoholic drinks in a package that looks like a kid's drink," another said.

An example of a alcohol drink.
An example of a alcohol drink. Photo credit: Newshub

"We should have the debate on how do you create a culture where moderation is both achievable and sensible and accessible and the push of advertising or accessibility is not persuading people to use liquor more than they would otherwise do," Dame Jenny said.

She also suggested a crackdown on those who supply alcohol to minors - including parents.

"I think we should look at the law to signal whether supplying kids under-age is clearly illegal and that those adults will be held to account legally if they are caught doing so," she said.

And here's the biggie - tax.

Dame Jenny wants a debate on raising the excise tax on alcohol, which like with cigarettes, would raise the cost of alcohol in the hope of reducing harm.

"How much do we take? How much do we spend on health? Is it about right? And if we put the excise duty up would it slow people down those who might otherwise be drinking excessively?" she asked.

Outgoing Justice Minister Kris Faafoi admitted there are gaps in the current alcohol regulations and had been working towards a review but it's not clear how big it will be.

But this former Prime Minister is clear - it is time for a big national booze debate.

Watch the full Patrick Gower: On Booze documentary on-demand at ThreeNow. And the conversation around booze continues when Gower hosts Newshub Talks Booze live at 8:30pm Wednesday on Three and ThreeNow.