We Provide
The Bill
Clause by clause
Spacer Spacer
Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill

What the Bill proposes

  • Drinking age is to be lowered from 20 to 18.
  • Exemptions reduced and clarified
  • Under 18s cannot enter ‘restricted premises’
  • On ‘supervised’ premises under 18s with a parent or legal guardian can enter and buy alcohol
  • On undesignated premises any age may enter and under 18s with a parent or legal guardian can buy alcohol.
Lower drinking age opposed by public health organisations
Lowering the drinking age from 20 to 18 is opposed, by this research unit and by other public health organisations, including the Ministry of Health.

Drinking by teenagers and alcohol related harm is already a problem in New Zealand, including trends towards binge drinking larger amounts.

Overseas experiences of lowering the drinking age have resulted in increases in alcohol related harm statistics. On the other hand, when the US raised its drinking age, alcohol related harm among young people was reduced.

APHRU recommends enforcing the drinking age we’ve got. To make the current drinking age of 20 work better, the following changes are supported:

  • Clarification of the age provisions - Clauses 74-81.
  • Definition of ‘evidence of age’ - Clause 3.
  • Infringement notices for minors - Clause 82.
  • Power to seize evidence - Clause 177.
Also recommended are additional clauses to
  • Require licensees and their staff to demand ID from young looking people
  • Make it an offence to present false or someone else’s ID
  • Allow IDs seized in evidence by licensees, their staff and police.

Also supported are proposed changes to the Land Transport Act to make the driver’s licence, and non-driver’s ID card, suitable for age identification by those who wish to use it for that purpose.

Clarification of the age provisions (Clauses 74-81)

Hard to police
At present, exemptions allow 18-19 to purchase alcohol in premises with a ‘supervised’ or undesignated licence either with a meal or if accompanied by a parent, guardian or adult spouse. Under 18s may buy alcohol with a meal on undesignated premises if accompanied by a responsible relative.

Frontline police find these exemptions confusing and hard to police, and report that some licensees think so too. In 1995 police and inspectors interviewed in 15 localities reported under-enforcement of underage drinking in on-licensed premises and of younger teenagers drinking takeaway alcohol in public places and unsupervised parties because of the complexity of provisions and exemptions in the Act. Although there is a legal minimum drinking age there is no actual legal requirement to show or to demand proof of age.

What the Bill proposes
The Bill proposes to changes to simplify the age provisions. The dining requirement is removed. Those under legal age will not be able to enter premises with age ‘restricted’ licenses, ie premises whose principle purpose of business is the sale of alcohol, such as pubs and bars. They will not be able to enter premises or areas with a ‘supervised’ licence designation - such as most nightclubs and, for example, licensed TABS - unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If accompanied by their parent or guardian, they can enter and can buy alcohol. Any age person may enter undesignated licensed premises, such as cafes and restaurants, and may buy a drink if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit supports these simplifications of the law.

However, a lower drinking age is not supported, because it is likely to increase current levels of alcohol related harm among under 20s.

Binge drinking in nightclubs and 18 as a ‘de facto’ drinking age
Some argue that there is already a ‘de facto’ drinking age of 18. Currently many 18-19 year olds are drinking legally in cafes or restaurants with a meal and also in nightclubs. Many nightclubs have obtained ‘supervised’ designation on the argument that their principle purpose of business is not the sale of alcohol but is ‘entertainment’.

But Auckland surveys over the 1990s show drinking in downtown nightclubs is associated with Auckland 18-19 year olds binge drinking increasingly large amounts (Casswell & Zhang 1998).

In the first years under the Act night clubs were given on-licences with no age restrictions at all, under on an apparent misapprehension that they were more like private clubs than late night bars. Most currently have ‘supervised’ designations. Case law shows a series of nightclubs being brought before the Authority by local officers because of concerns about young people’s drinking and other problems. However, narrow interpretations of the Act by the court have blocked the Authority from resolving these difficulties by tightening licence terms of nightclubs (Hill & Stewart 1998).

Nightclubs are in fact late night bars, and as such should be age restricted to 20 like other taverns.

Patterns of drinking
High risk behaviour and patterns of drinking to excess are more common among young people, particularly among young males, than among older groups (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996). They are also more likely to experience alcohol related harm than an older person drinking the same amount (Casswell et al. 1993).

In the 1995 national drinking survey, the males aged 18-24, though less than 7% of respondents, drank nearly a third of the beer. The 18 and 19 year old males (who legally should not yet be drinking in pubs or buying their own takeaway alcohol, unless with parent, guardian or spouse) were already drinking 3.5 times their share of the total male beer intake, although not yet as high a proportion as those in their first few years of legal age drinking. The 18-24 year olds were most likely to be heavy drinkers and to report alcohol related problems, such as getting into fight or drink-driving (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996; Dacey 1997). This pattern is reflected in statistics on road crashes and breath alcohol (Land Transport Safety Authority 1995, 1996).

In the 1995 national survey almost a quarter of 16-17 year old males and one in ten 14-15 year old males were drinking 6 or more drinks on a single occasion at least weekly. A third of the 16-24 year old women were drinking enough to feel drunk at least once a month, and one in eight once a week. Nearly a third of the young people in their mid and late teens were drinking on on-licensed premises.

Binge drinking and harm associated with on-licences premises
Evidence of young people getting drunk in late inner city venues does little to support the argument that it might be safer to have young drinkers under the eye of licensees.
For 18-24 year old males drinking large amounts in hotels, taverns and clubs is an important predictor of alcohol related harm, such as getting in to a fight or drink-driving (Casswell, Zhang, Wyllie 1993). Seventeen percent of assaults in hotels resulting in hospitalisation were found to involve people less than 20 years of age (Langley et al. 1996). This pattern is reflect in breathalyser and road fatality statistics (Land Transport Safety Authority 1996).

Analysis of seven Auckland surveys shows that those teenagers who drink are binge-drinking increasingly large amounts (APHRU 1998; Casswell, Zhang & Wyllie 1998). Among the 18-19 year old drinkers, this trend was particularly associated with drinking in nightclubs.

Teenage binge drinking of take-away alcohol
Among the 14-17 year olds binge drinking increasing amounts was associated with drinking at other people’s homes - that is, drinking takeaway alcohol from off-licensed premises. In Auckland the number of off licences has doubled over the 1990s. In the national survey, around a quarter of 14-17 year old drinkers had bought alcohol themselves at supermarkets, wine shops or other off-licences, and had encountered few refusals. Off-licensed premises are seldom monitored unless they come to police attention (Hill & Stewart 1997). Also, since currently any aged person may enter off-licensed premises, which may sell other items, and a takeaway purchase takes only a minute, policing takes more surveillance time and manpower.
In a 1997 national survey of 14-18 year olds (ALAC 1997), a friend’s home was the most likely location of drinking, particularly for heavier drinkers. One in five had last drunk at a party. One in five, and more than a third of those who drank most heavily on the last occasion, said they usually drank to get drunk. The last time they drank, four out of ten drank five or more glasses; one in seven drank more than ten. One in three reported suffering ill effects: one in eight had drunk enough to have gaps in memory; one in twelve threw up; one in eleven fell over or hurt themselves.

Alcohol and unwanted/unsafe sex
The 14 to 24 years are high risk for sons, but also for daughters. Of the young people involved in the Dunedin Multi-Disciplinary Study of Health and Development, 10% reported that alcohol was the main reason for first intercourse, and more said it was one factor; 29% of the women reported ‘unwilling’ participation (Dickson, Paul, Herbison & Silva 1998). A third of the teenage girls seeking emergency contraception from NZ Family Planning report that they were drunk when they had had unsafe, and sometimes unwanted, sex (NZ Family Planning Assn 1994: 9).
The younger we start drinking…
A longitudinal study of New Zealand adolescents has shown that access to alcohol at ages 15 and 18 was a significant predictor of amounts drunk and adverse consequences at later ages. Access to alcohol via licensed premises was more significant than peer or parental influences (Casswell & Zhang, 1988, Casswell, S. (1996).
Research in the United states has also shown a significant relationship between the early drinking patterns of individuals and their age cohort and later heavy drinking and alcohol related problems (Fillmore et al. 1991; Chou & Pickering 1992).

Experiences in comparable countries

Adverse experiences of lowering the drinking age
Public health policies are about predicting and reducing risk. In considering a lower drinking age, we have the opportunity to learn from well-researched ‘natural experiments’ in other countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Australia a drinking age of 21 was lowered to 18. This had adverse effects on traffic safety, with increases in crashes persisting for the next six years. In Queensland there was a 92% increase in males aged 17-20 charged with drunk driving. Juvenile crime increased 20-30% in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. In Western Australia there were increases in non-traffic hospital admissions, and in Queensland non-traffic admissions of 15-17 year olds increased, including young women deliberately injured by others or attempting suicide More recent research in New South Wales shows that over two-thirds of alcohol purchases by underage-looking people went unchallenged.

The Canadian provinces lowered their drinking ages from 21 to 18 or 19 with marked increases in automobile accidents among 18-20 year olds. Also noted was a trickle down effect, with 18 years olds buying alcohol for their 16-17 year old friends and taking them into bars. Surveys a decade later showed 12% of Canadian young people were drinking regularly by age 15, and seriously harmful drinking among teenagers had become a concern for treatment agencies.

In 1984 the US Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act pressured all states into raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 by withholding highway funds for non-compliance. This federal policy was based on research evidence after 29 states lowered their drinking age to 18 to match the right to vote. There were significant increases in alcohol related crashes among young drivers, with 10-30% increases among new drivers in some states. Later analysis of the effect of various policies to reduce road fatalities attributed a 5-6% reduction to the higher drinking age reintroduced in 1984. The higher drinking age was associated with lower alcohol use among US teenagers across all demographic variables, with this pattern persisting in their early twenties .

A considerable body of research on drinking age changes in Australia and the United States shows that lowering the drinking age to 18 was associated with increased drink drive fatalities and injuries. When the United States returned to a minimum age of 21, alcohol related fatalities and crashes were reduced, particularly among new drivers, and lower alcohol consumption levels by teenagers have persisted in their early 20s .
Moderate in international comparison
A drinking age of 20 and no ‘parental’ exceptions would still be moderate regulation in comparison with countries with similar teenage drinking patterns.
Minimum drinking ages vary between 18 in Scandinavia, 19 in Canada and 21 in the United States, but the age provisions are simpler to interpret and enforce than under New Zealand’s present legislation. In addition, policing of excessive teenager drinking is aided by the fact that age restrictions apply to possession or consumption of alcohol, as well as purchase. California provides police with specific powers to remove alcohol from underage drinking parties. Where police have the power to seize liquor on reasonable suspicion that it has been obtained illegally, they are able to separate the teenagers from the alcohol. In Manitoba, Canada, the liquor is required to be held for seven days before disposal, to allow any parent or guardian to claim ownership (Hill 1997).

Top | Next | Bill | Home