Lets Follow An Evidenced-based Approach To Reduce Alcohol Harm

Published: Wed 5 Jun 2024 05:46 AM
Research tells us that the vast majority of New Zealanders drink responsibly. New Zealanders are drinking more than 25% less now than they did in the late 1970s[i]. Further, harmful drinking – particularly among younger drinkers – has also fallen.
Continued cultural change including targeted education and support programmes along with targeted interventions for hazardous drinkers are crucial to continue to reduce harmful drinking.
The Police Commissioner has made some comments which do not consider these and other facts.
The NZ Health survey tells us that more of us are drinking responsibly with 84% of New Zealand adults – more than four out of five of us – drinking beer, wine and spirits responsibly. This is an increase of 3 percentage points from last year (81% 2022).
The Survey shows the lowest rate of hazardous drinking[ii][iii]since the survey began – sitting at 16% of the adult population (18.7% 2022).
Over the past year this equates to 110,000 fewer kiwis drinking[iv] in a harmful way.
This reduction is significant and shows the change in the way that we are drinking,” said NZABC executive director Virginia Nicholls
Firstly Police are claiming alcohol costs about $7.8 billion in social costs annually. According to Dr Eric Crampton[v] from the NZ Initiative this number is badly wrong[vi] [vii].
Secondly the Police Commissioner’s comment that more deprived areas are over-represented by licensed premises and, by implication, are drinking far more than elsewhere is misleading.
Lets look at the facts, recently alcohol consumption was tracked via a wastewater trial by the University of Auckland[viii] [ix]and found that the highest consumption recorded was in Queenstown and South Aucklanders drank the least of any place studies.
Thirdly there is no evidence to suggest that reducing retailers opening hours will reduce alcohol harm.
Fourthly raising the price of beer, wine and spirits as a harm reduction measure is flawed as has been found in Scotland which has recently introduced a minimum unit price (MUP) on alcohol which showed no real change in harm as a result. This is because harmful drinkers do not respond to price hikes like moderate drinkers do.
The Scottish Health evaluation of MUP has shown that there is no significant change in alcohol dependence (hazardous drinking) pre and post the implementation compared with England.
According to the NZ Youth 2000 survey[x] an increasing proportion of secondary school students are choosing not to drink. The proportion of secondary students who have never drunk alcohol increased markedly from 26% in 2007, to 45% in 2019.
Over time, young people are drinking less often. In the total student population, young people who used alcohol in the past month fell between 2007 and 2019 from 49% in 2007 to 34% in 2019.
“We need to look at targeted evidence-based interventions for hazardous drinkers to reduce alcohol harm”.
“The way in which New Zealanders drink is continuing to undergo a culture shift, but harmful drinking is not acceptable and we still have a way to go”.
About the New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council
The NZ Alcohol Beverages Council is a pan-industry group that comments publicly on matters relating to the beer, wine, spirits and beverage industry. It focuses on supporting responsible alcohol consumption and wants to see a fair and balanced debate on alcohol regulation in New Zealand.
[i] Total NZ population 15 years and over total alcohol, 12 litres per person in 1978. In Dec 1986 11.282 litres. Year ended December 2023 – 8.2 litres per person and March 2024: 8 litres per person. Browse - Infoshare - Statistics New Zealand (
[ii] Hazardous drinkers are those who obtain an AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) score of 8 or more, representing an established pattern of drinking that carries a high risk of future damage to physical or mental health.
[iii] NZ Health Survey (December 2023): We are also seeing a reduction by 7.1 percentage points in hazardous drinking by 18 – 24 year olds to 23.8%, (30.9% 2022), and a reduction of 1.6 percentage points by 25 – 34 years to 21.6%.
Results of this survey in the past year found a notable change for Maori with a reduction of 8.3 percentage points in hazardous drinking to 25.1% (33.4% 2022), European/other have a reduction of 3.1 percentage points to 16.9%. Pacific and Asian people have remained stable at 21.5% and 4.9%.
[iv] NZ Health survey: This is an estimated 670,000 adults (22/23) (during 21/22: 780,000 adults). This is 110,000 fewer kiwis drinking in a harmful way.
[v] Dr Eric Crampton 4 June 24:
[vi] BERL was asked by the Ministry of Health and ACC in 2009 to count the social costs of alcohol. They tallied $5.3b per year for alcohol jointly with other drugs, and $4.8b per year for alcohol alone. They were asked to measure only the costs and not the offsetting benefits.
Dr Eric Crampton from the NZ Initiative reviewed the figures and found that when Berl assumed that any drinker consuming more than four standard drinks per day for men, or two standard drinks per day for women received no benefit from their alcohol consumption. So every dollar spent on alcohol by those drinkers, including the excise tax they paid was tallied as a social cost, $700m of Berls headline figure.
There were other problems too, Berl wiped out any conditions where alcohol reduced net health costs for alcohol-related liver cirrhosis, the proportion is obviously 100 percent, but other disorders, like chronic heart disease, the proportion is negative because alcohol reduces heart disease.
Berl estimated the costs of alcohol-related crime, it used a survey of prisoners who were asked to what extent alcohol had contributed to their offending. If the prisoner said at least “some”, the costs of that offending were entirely attributed to alcohol.
Berl also double-counted If you follow standard guidelines, you cannot count both the intangible costs of premature mortality and the costs of lost productivity due to premature mortality. Berl counted both. Matt Burgess, Brad Taylor, and Dr Eric Crampton reviewed the numbers at the time that perhaps $967m of Berls $4.8b figure might make sense as a measure of the social cost of alcohol. They then took this to the NZ Association of Economists conference.
Since this time Berl has come back in 2018 and said that alcohol costs the nation $7.8b per year. This appears to be an inflation adjustment to the old 2009 figure.
[vii] Dr Eric Crampton, NZ Initiative: Don't believe the hype about alcohol's multibillion-dollar cost | The New Zealand Initiative (, 23 August 2019
[viii] Wastewaterbased Epidemiology to Investigate SpatioTemporal Trends in Alcohol Consumption in Aotearoa, New Zealand - Wilson - Chemistry – An Asian Journal - Wiley Online Library, accessed 19 March 24.
[ix] Ibid. The trial covered 40% of New Zealand’s population over 6 months in 2021.
The trial estimated our average alcohol consumption was 1.2 standard drinks each day (for people aged 15 and over), which is 8.4 standard drinks over a week.
Health NZs low-risk alcohol drinking advice for women is no more than 10 standard drinks a week and men no more than 15 standard drinks a week.
Drinking spikes were associated with special events such as public holidays and rugby, rugby league and cricket matches. The highest consumption recorded in Queenstown was on the day ‘The Stallions’ male strip revue gave a one-night-only performance.
[x] Youth19 was conducted in 2019 in the Auckland, Northland & Waikato regions by researchers from The University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago and Auckland University of Technology. Youth19 is a scientifically and ethically rigorous survey, funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. Youth19 - A Youth2000 Survey.

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