Greens say Government fund or levy could replace millions of dollars lost in sports funding if alcohol harm Bill passes

Emile Donovan for RNZ

Will the new member's bill on reducing alcohol harm produce a sports-funding hangover? 

There are a bunch of ways you can try to calculate the damage alcohol abuse does to society in Aotearoa.

You can try to boil it down to a dollar figure, as ActionPoint has done ($7.8 billion per year).

You can calculate the number of deaths from alcohol-related causes, as the Ministry of Health has done (600 – 1000).

You can speak to someone who grew up in a household with someone with an alcohol problem, or who’s lost a loved one.

No matter how you slice it, though, everyone can agree on one thing: harmful drinking is bad, and causes serious societal damage.

Finding a way to mitigate that damage is front of mind for everybody, from legislators to police, hospital workers, people who drink, and, indeed, for companies who make money through the sale and supply of alcohol.

It’s in everybody’s mutual interests. But not everybody agrees on the best way to go about this.

Last month, a member’s bill in the name of Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick was drawn from the parliamentary biscuit tin.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill aims to reduce alcohol harm by empowering councils to implement their own local alcohol policies by removing special appeals; and by reducing what Swarbrick describes as the ‘normalisation and glamourisation’ of alcohol, through banning sponsorship and advertising of broadcast sports teams and events.

The All Blacks’ 35-year relationship with Steinlager would be kaput. The Speight’s billboards at club rugby matches in Ashburton would be gone. Tens of millions of dollars pumped into community sport would evaporate – to be replaced, Swarbrick argues, either through a levy or a special government fund to help minimise the fiscal impact.

The Green MP argues the gains would be worth it: younger sports fans, who might in previous generations have been bombarded by hundreds of alcohol advertisements every hour, wouldn’t anymore.

“There is evidence that shows that continued exposure to alcohol through sponsorship and advertising has the impact of … normalising and glamourising alcohol … and, particularly for our young people, normalising that consumption when they become adults.

“The best parallel you could try and come up with is the likes of tobacco advertising and sponsorship. You can’t specifically pinpoint that [banning tobacco advertising in sport] was the one thing that [drastically reduced rates of youth cigarette smoking], but it was part of a package of interventions that said, hey, we’re going to stop glamourising and normalising this thing.”

But the Alcohol Beverages Council sees things differently.

Board member Dylan Firth says the comparison with tobacco isn’t helpful, as the two are not comparable products.

Firth says while he agrees the laws around councils’ ability to implement local alcohol policies is an area that could and should be refined, he isn’t convinced Swarbrick’s bill would do so in the most effective manner.

On today’s episode of The Detail, Emile Donovan speaks to Swarbrick and Firth about what this legislation would do; how it would be implemented; whether it’s realistic; and whether it’s the best way to go about minimising alcohol-related harm in Aotearoa.

Find out how to listen and subscribe to The Detail here.  

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