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Submission from the
Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit


The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit is a multi-disciplinary research unit carrying out high quality research to enhance knowledge about health promotion and respond to the health promotion needs of the people of New Zealand and the South Pacific. It receives programme funding from the Health Research Council and the Alcohol Advisory Council.

Since enactment of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989, the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit has conducted a number of research projects relevant to the application, administration and enforcement the new Act, as well as on aspects of alcohol related harm. These include research on:

  • Current drinking patterns of New Zealanders, and changes during the 1990s
  • Drink driving, and drinking locations
  • Host responsibility
  • Wine sales in supermarkets
  • Alcohol advertising
  • Local level administration and enforcement of the Sale of Liquor Act
  • Liquor licensing legislation and practices in comparable countries, states and cities.

In this submission to the Liquor Review 1996, the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit draws on the results of original research and research- based knowledge of international experiences, to offer a public health perspective on legislative issues.

Each of the Advisory Committee's terms of reference are dealt with on a separate page. Also presented are additional issues related to regulation of licensed premises which the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit regards as important to consider in this review.

Drinking in New Zealand

Although industry production statistics show a decline in aggregate alcohol in consumption, research on drinking in New Zealand shows that patterns of drinking have changed little. Alcohol related harm continues for both individuals and for society as a whole. For example, in 1995 an estimated 62,000 women were assaulted by someone who had been drinking, 63,000 men got into a fight because of their drinking, 45,000 men missed work because of their drinking and about 11,000 had car crashes while drinking and driving (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996).

Aggregate consumption changes

The decline in aggregate alcohol consumption since the Sale of Liquor Act was implemented in April 1990 is the continuation of a trend downwards which has occurred since the early 1980s. Analyses by the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit have demonstrated that changes in the real price of alcohol (a consequence of the public health oriented taxation policies put in place in the 1980s) have had a major influence on this decrease in aggregate consumption (Figure 1) (Zhang & Casswell, submitted for publication).

Beer consumption has declined in the 1980s and 1990s, in keeping with price increases, and because this beverage accounts for most of the alcohol consumed in New Zealand (57% in 1992) there has been an aggregate decline in alcohol, despite an increase in wine consumption. The increase in wine was influenced by both a decrease in real price and the introduction of wine into supermarkets as a result of the Sale of Liquor Act (Zhang & Casswell, submitted).

The decline in aggregate consumption since the implementation of the Sale of Liquor Act has amounted to a quarter of a drink per week per person every year.

Patterns of drinking

Survey data has allowed us to examine patterns of drinking in the context of this overall decline in consumption and to relate drinking patterns to particular drinking locations. These have been collected from Auckland samples 1990-1995 and from a national sample in 1995. These results show an increase in frequency of drinking in restaurants and licensed cafes in keeping with the less restricted licensing under the Sale of Liquor Act 1989, which has contributed to a change in the kind of drinking environments available. However, the quantities consumed in these locations are relatively small.

There has been a decrease in the frequency of drinking in sports clubs and workplaces (which accounted for about 8% of all alcohol consumed in 1995). However, there has been no decrease in frequency of drinking in licensed environments in which larger quantities are typically consumed and which account for about one fifth of overall consumption; namely, pubs and nightclubs. Table 1 shows the mean amounts of absolute alcohol consumed in these drinking environments as reported in the 1995 national survey (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996).

Pubs and clubs were the site of much of the drinking by the survey's heavier drinking young men, who experience relatively high rates of negative consequences from their drinking (such as getting into fights). Drinking in such locations has been identified as a predictor of violence, drink driving and other alcohol related harm in both New Zealand and elsewhere (Casswell et al. 1993; Stockwell, Somerford & Lang 1991). Bar staff continuing to serve 'obviously intoxicated' patrons has also been identified as a powerful predictor of harm (Stockwell, Lang & Rydon 1993). This means that on-licensed premises offer important opportunities for prevention and enforcement efforts which have been shown to be effective elsewhere (Room 1984; McKnight & Streff 1994).

In addition, alcohol consumed in private settings is bought from licensed premises. Off-license, wineshops and supermarkets are sources of alcohol for 14-17 year olds, significant numbers of whom reported drinking to intoxication at least once a week (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996). Enforcement and other intervention practices related to licensed premises are therefore important in reducing alcohol related harm.

This research on patterns of drinking associated with alcohol related harm underlines the importance of effective regulation under the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 and the further encouragement of host responsibility practices on all licensed premises.

Availability of alcohol

The Discussion Document on the liquor review has made reference to what it terms the 'availability theory' and the discussion which took place on this matter during the period leading to the 1989 Act. It states 'the essence of the availability theory is the belief that increased availability results in increased consumption, and that increased consumption results in more alcohol-related problems' (Ministry of Justice 1996) It notes that the Select Committee on the Sale of Liquor Bill 1989 rejected the availability theory.

In 1994 an international review of the evidence concerning what influenced drinking patterns and behaviour was published (Edwards et al. 1994). This involved a close examination and critique of available evidence by 17 international experts in the alcohol field. It included an analysis of evidence concerning access to alcohol and the effects of availability on consumption. This concluded that:

"A large number of studies have been undertaken which examine the basic premise that restrictions on alcohol availability can have significant effects on alcohol consumption and on associated problems. Those studies which address the availability of alcohol have usually found that when alcohol is less available, less convenient to purchase, or less accessible, consumption and alcohol-related problems are lower... The weight of the empirical evidence has supported the argument that limitation on the availability of alcohol, can be an effective part of a public health approach to reduce alcohol consumption, and thus to alleviate problems associated with alcohol. While many of these policies are established at state and national levels, others can be established at the community level."

Drinking behaviour for all drinkers is influenced by a multiplicity of factors which interact in their effect. They include price, promotion, and access, counter measures against drinking and driving, police enforcement practices on licensed premises, and cultural norms and expectations about drinking. All these factors influence consumtpion and the experience of harm.

It is clear from the available research evidence that any measures which will potentially increase the availability of alcohol, whether as a result of reduction in the real price of alcohol, or reduction or elimination of restrictions on retail access, should be judged in terms of public health and public safety, in addition to any other perspectives.

General Perspectives on the Act

The Sale of Liquor Act 1989 introduced a market-driven liquor licensing system under which licences were to be 'easier to get, easier to lose'. Nevertheless, the Act's stated object was

"...to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse, in so far as that can be achieved by legislative means."

Five years after its introduction, the Liquor Review 1996 offers an opportunity to assess the current operation of the new licensing system, with particular attention to the way both the legislation and local practices operationalise this objective.

In presenting this submission, the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit wishes to emphasise the research-based themes which underlie the suggested amendments.

1. The innovative approach of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 to reducing alcohol related harm has been emphasising the consumption of food in drinking environments. Since food slows the absorption of alcohol into the body, many of the amendments suggested here support and seek to strengthen aspects of the Act which encourage food with alcohol, as well as other measures to increase host responsibility on licensed premises.

2. Both overseas experience and research on the 1989 Act suggest that considerable gains may be made from fully enforcing the existing legislation (Jeffs & Saunders 1983; Hill & Stewart 1996). Many amendments suggested here are directed at improving the enforceability of the Act, as well as improving inspection and systems of administration.

3. Research on the local operation of the Act and on comparable licensing systems elsewhere suggest amendments regarding conditions and sanctions which would increase the Liquor Licensing Authority's ability to respond with appropriate flexibility to different licensing and enforcement situations within the framework of the Act.

4. The new Sale of Liquor Act allows little consideration to be given to the impact of licensed premises on local neighbourhoods and there are few opportunities for public participation in liquor licensing. This is unusual, in comparison with other liquor licensing systems. Research and theorising on regulatory systems in Australia and elsewhere suggest a role for local communities that complements and reinforces legislative strategies (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992).

Contents of Submission

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