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Debate continues over NZ's drinking culture

Monday 8 Oct 2012 3:41 p.m.

By Ashlee Butler

The debate continues over how to curb New Zealand’s destructive drinking culture, after MPs debating the Alcohol Reform Bill ruled in favour of allowing 18-year-olds to continue buying their own alcohol.

The Bill, introduced to Parliament on August 23, gave MPs three possible choices:

  • Raise the purchase age to 20
  • Split the age to 20 for off-licence premises and 18 for bars/clubs
  • Keep the purchase age at 18

While some teenagers feel that if they are old enough to go to war and to vote, they should be seen as responsible enough to drink, others have criticised the decision of politicians to keep the status quo.

Tegan Gaudin, 17, says: “[it’s] just encouraging more underage drinking!”

It’s not just young people

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes says “92 percent of problem drinkers are over 20”.

“The real issues are price, availability, and alcohol advertising.”

In an attempt to control drink driving, the legal drink drive blood alcohol limit for drivers under 20 was lowered from 0.03 to zero in 2011. But the limit for drivers 20 and over remained at 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.

“[It’s] scapegoating, discriminating [against] young New Zealanders,” says Hughes,

The availability of alcohol seems, to MPs at least, to be under control.

A person who is under the age of 18 can only be supplied with alcohol by their parent or legal guardian.

And Bailee Jackson, 17, feels that changing the purchase age would not have an affect.

“Minors will still be supplied with alcohol through their parents or older friends,” she says. “The focus should be to put in laws that try to minimise the amount of alcohol that individuals are consuming.”

Labour Party MP Phil Goff has not seen past this youth perspective. He blames the guardians of today’s youth, and says his generation “have been very bad role models for those who are following through”.

“We have to change the culture,” he says.

‘We drink to get drunk’

Eighteen-year-old Caitlyn Moratti says the situation will only get worse if getting drunk continues to be seen in a positive light.

“The drinking culture in New Zealand is very bad at the moment because of the fact that the consumption of alcohol is purely for the effects that it gives you, as they believe parties are not fun when you are sober,” she says.

“The youth nowadays do not care about what they are drinking or whether it tastes good, they drink to get drunk.”

In European countries such as Italy, the legal drinking age is 16, but alcohol is present throughout a child’s life with their families. The drinking culture is seen as more stable in these countries than in New Zealand because drinking is less of a novelty, and being drunk is looked down on rather than celebrated.

Ashlee Butler is a young writer-in-training for the 3 News ‘3Youth’ programme. 

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