National Surveys Comparison 1995 & 2000
Ruth Habgood, Sally Casswell, Megan Pledger and Krishna Bhatta,  
Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit, November 2001


Liberalising policies, which had been initiated by the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act amendments and the changed policy on alcohol advertising in 1991, continued to affect the alcohol environment in the years between 1995 and 2000. The 1999 Sale of Liquor Act amendment, which decreased the minimum purchase age for alcohol, introduced beer into supermarkets and allowed wider sale on Sundays, further added to these effects.
This is the context in which the two national surveys have shown marked changes in consumption, particularly by younger drinkers. These changes are in keeping with the trends found in surveys in the Auckland region over the decade of the 1990s (Casswell and Bhatta, 2001). In those regional surveys however, the sample was not sufficient to allow discrimination between the different age groups under 20. The present comparison of the national surveys, with an additional youth sample in 2000, did allow such detailed examination of the changes in different age groups.
The group which was directly affected by legislative change in minimum purchase age, those aged 18-19 years, showed some increases in consumption. Their frequency of drinking did not change but there was a significant increase in the quantities consumed on a typical drinking occasion, from five to seven drinks on average, and this reflected marked changes among women particularly. In 2000 this age group typically drank the highest quantities of any age group and also had the largest proportions regularly drinking enough to feel drunk. 
Those aged 18-19 could legally purchase alcohol in 2000 and there was an increase in the proportions purchasing from takeaway outlets. The greater emphasis on age verification as part of the legislative change only affected a minority of purchasing occasions; purchases of takeaway alcohol from the most popular takeaway locations were made by those aged 18–19 about three times as often as they were asked for age identification. However, there was no change in the drinking which took place in licensed premises. The majority of those aged 18–19 years already drank on licensed premises in 1995 and this did not change, giving credence to the belief that the de facto drinking age on licensed premises was already 18 (due to the number of exemptions in the legislation and the difficulty therefore of enforcing the law).
The younger groups not directly affected by the minimum purchase age law change did, however, show marked changes in drinking. Those aged 14-15 increased their frequency of drinking and increased their consumption in a typical drinking occasion from three drinks to five drinks. The increases among the 16 –17 year olds were even more marked; they not only drank more often but on a typical drinking occasion increased their consumption from four to seven drinks. There were also marked increases in other measures of heavier drinking among this age group.
There were some changes in takeaway purchases by those under 18 following the law change. Fewer purchased in bottlestores and wine shops but purchases from supermarkets had increased. Except for 14–15 year olds in bottlestores, refusals and requests for ID were low in all locations. However, despite minimal behavioural change, fewer males under 18 thought that it was easy to buy alcohol to takeaway in 2000 than had been the case in 1995 (and this was in contrast to the rest of the sample, more of whom felt access was easier, presumably reflecting the increase in places where takeaway alcohol could be purchased).
Young people drank in a variety of locations but the category mentioned by the largest numbers in each of the younger age groups were special events like festivals, music events and dance parties (asked about only in 2000 because they have increased in prominence in recent years). The request for age identification or refusals were low in these special events, as they were in other locations. The proportions of 16-17 and 14-15 year olds drinking in other licensed locations showed no change between 1995 and 2000, other than a decrease in sports clubs.
Requests for age identification were, in fact, made less often of under 18 year olds than for 18-19 year olds in both takeaway and on-premise contexts. It is possible that this result may in part reflect the presence of parents in some locations, particularly in cafés and restaurants and sports clubs. It may also reflect older friends buying for under 18 year old drinkers at on-premise locations.
Friends were the group who purchased most often for those under age. While this survey did not gain information about the age of the friends purchasing alcohol for them, qualitative research carried out over the time of the legislative change with 14-17 year olds suggested that they saw those aged 18–19 as good sources of supply for the under age groups (Bennett and Coggan, 2000).
The increases in consumption among younger people measured in these surveys are of concern from a public health perspective. There is evidence to suggest that heavier drinking cohorts of young people go on to be heavier drinkers in later life and to experience more alcohol-related harm (Fillmore et al., 1991; Chou and Pickering, 1992; Yu and Williford, 1992; Pedersen and Skrondal, 1998). Younger drinkers are also more likely to experience alcohol-related harm than older drinkers (Casswell et al., 1993).  The increase in consumption in those aged 16–17 was accompanied by increases in reports of experience of alcohol-related problems, although this was significant only among the women. (It is possible that some of the items asked about, for example after effects at work, getting drunk when there was an important reason to stay sober, and being intoxicated for days on end, may not have been very relevant to the youth sample).
There has been considerable concern expressed in media and policy discussions in New Zealand since the law change relating to younger people’s drinking and this was also reflected in the survey results. A majority saw teenage drinking as a problem. More than half of the respondents thought laws were not being enforced enough.
The other demographic group to show marked increases in consumption were women and increases in both frequency of drinking and the typical quantities consumed were found among women of all ages. The proportion of women drinking six or more glasses of wine on a typical drinking occasion increased from 7% to 11% from 1995 to 2000. However, this overall increase masks quite dramatic increases among some of the younger women, from 17% to 33% for example among those aged 18–19. More women said that they drank enough to feel drunk and agreed that it was alright to get drunk now and again. Women also showed increases in reports of experience of problems from their own drinking.
Increases in heavy drinking by women of child bearing age are of concern not only for the increased risks of personal harm but also for the risks that heavy drinking poses to a foetus. High peaks in blood alcohol are the most dangerous to a foetus and heavy drinking, 5-7 standard drinks per occasion, has been associated with damage to the human foetus (Jacobson et al. 1998) .
These findings of increases in consumption by women overall was in contrast with the findings for men who, apart from the younger age groups, did not report such marked increases in consumption or increases in problems.
There was a decrease in the proportions of men reporting physical assaults by a drinker and in the proportions of women reporting negative effects from someone else’s drinking on more than one area of their lives. This may be related to the lack of increases in the frequency of drinking among men and decreases in the frequency of men’s heavier drinking. There was a decrease in the proportions of men drinking larger amounts (6 or more drinks) at least once a week. There were also decreases in the proportions of older drinkers and men who had driven when they had had too much to drink (but this picture was not seen as consistently for women).
While it was small, there was an increase in the proportion of 18-29 year olds who were drinking less, who gave pressure to drink less from bar staff as a reason for doing so. There was also a decrease in the proportion of patrons of sports clubs and pubs who thought drunks would be served there and, although about two thirds of patrons in those locations still thought they would be, these changes do suggest some impact of the host responsibility activities undertaken in New Zealand. This is in contrast to the increase in the impression across the sample as a whole that drunks would be served in other people’s homes, a location in which women drank more in 2000.
While increases in consumption were largely confined to women and to younger drinkers there was a shift in the alcohol market overall to more of it being consumed in heavier drinking occasions. This is of importance to likely harm and therefore is a notable change in alcohol consumption between 1995 and 2000. Half of the alcohol consumed in 2000 was consumed in heavier drinking occasions, an increase of 8% since 1995. There was also an increase in the proportion of drinkers whose annual consumption exceeded 10 litres and in the proportion who exceeded 20 litres of absolute alcohol, both of which were established as indicators of alcohol-related harm in the government’s National Alcohol Strategy (Alcohol Advisory Council, 2001).
Changes in drinking behaviour have been accompanied by attitudinal changes between 1995 and 2000 suggesting the development of a more liberal social climate around alcohol consumption. A greater tolerance towards intoxication was expressed, particularly by those groups whose consumption has shown the greatest increases. There was also a shift away from seeing alcohol as bad for health amongst men and older women and towards an increased perception that wine was a suitable drink for any time of day.
Fewer drinkers saw economic barriers as a disincentive to drinking more and most drinkers found takeaway alcohol easy to obtain and increasingly easy to buy when they wanted it.
The extent of the increases in reported consumption over the two surveys has not been matched by increases in the statistics on alcohol available for consumption. It is not entirely clear where the source of this difference lies. In part there might be greater willingness to self-report larger amounts because of the more liberal social climate, resulting in less under reporting in 2000. It is also the case that the statistics on alcohol available for consumption do not include duty free alcohol, and this is likely to have increased. This is consistent with the survey finding of a disproportionate increase in spirits consumption.
In general, while there were some small signs in the surveys of improved management of licensed premises, the shift towards heavier drinking occasions and the increases in particular found among younger drinkers and women are of concern from a public health perspective.

*Click here to see a review of research on the effects of lowering the drinking age in other countries

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