No evidence alcohol industry's school programme works

The alcohol industry admits it has no evidence a programme it's trialling in Kiwi schools actually stops kids from drinking.

Robert Brewer, chief executive of Spirits NZ, told Newshub Nation on Saturday the theatre programme, Smashed, has been used in 30 countries around the world already.

"We're piloting it at the moment in Auckland schools, and we're going to roll it out nationwide," he said.

Smashed here in New Zealand is run by the Life Education Trust, and funded by the alcohol industry. Brewer said the Ministry of Education was consulted in its development, and denied it was designed to promote or normalise alcohol use amongst teenagers, who have actually been drinking less and less over the past decade.

"If you went and saw the programme in schools, I think you'd say immediately this has got nothing to do with glorifying or normalising or anything like that about alcohol. This is about provisioning young people to basically be able to delay the onset of their consumption, or say no."

Nikki Jackson of Alcohol Healthwatch, appearing alongside Brewer, asked him whether there was any evidence Smashed prevented youth from taking up drinking.

"Not yet," admitted Brewer.

Dr Jackson told Newshub Nation host Simon Shepherd the real aim of Smashed, and other similar "corporate social responsibility" programmes are to make its financial backers look good.

"We've seen this more and more in the last couple of years, of alcohol companies partnering with mental health organisations, with other charities, as a way to delay good policy happening."

Robert Brewer.
Robert Brewer. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

New Zealand's last significant update to alcohol legislation came in 2012, with the Alcohol Reform Bill. Dozens of recommendations from the Law Commission were rejected by the then-National Government.

"We colloquially refer to [it] as the Alcohol Non-Reform Bill, because there weren't any reforms in it," Otago University health researcher Joe Boden told The AM Show on Friday.

Brewer disagreed.

"The fact of the matter is in 2012, 2013 we had the biggest change in alcohol regulation in New Zealand's history... the changes that happened there were fundamental, and driven by the back of the Law Commission review."

Dr Jackson said the three recommendations that would have had the biggest effect were rejected, however - price, availability and marketing.

The one thing Dr Jackson and Brewer agreed on was that youth hazardous drinking has come down over the past few years, while consumption amongst middle-aged and elderly Kiwis has risen. Brewer said it wasn't because older people had started to drink more.

"I just explain that as a generational wave of drinkers coming through society who grew up in a different frame of reference."

A study earlier this week found New Zealand loses as much as $1.65 billion a year in lost productivity due to absenteeism and reduced output thanks to alcohol use.



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