Study of new alcohol laws

Dr Brett Maclennan
Dr Brett Maclennan
New Zealand's new alcohol legislation will be put under close scrutiny in a four-year research project by University of Otago researchers.

Last month, researchers were awarded $1.9 million by the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand to study the effects of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act (2012), which came into full effect last December.

The project, which will involve collecting data from 10 local government areas across New Zealand, will look at a wide range of areas, from public involvement to alcohol availability.

Lead investigator Dr Brett Maclennan, a research fellow in the university's Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, said the new Act intended to reduce harm from excessive alcohol consumption.

However it omitted almost all of the evidence-based strategies recommended by the Law Commission in its 2010 review, including a recommended increase in the excise tax on alcohol, a tighter regulatory framework around alcohol advertising and sponsorship, and an increase in the purchase age.

''The recommendations of the Law Commission would have given the Act more teeth, but many of these were rejected,'' Dr Maclennan said.

''Our study will assess the impact of that as time goes on.''

Another message that came through clearly in the review was that the public and local governments wanted more say in where and when alcohol was sold.

''Local government were limited in what they could do ... under the previous legislation.

''The new Act in principle gives them additional powers, but we're already seeing appeals against the content of local alcohol policies by the grocery and hospitality sectors,'' Dr Maclennan said.

''As part of our research, we hope to speak to staff involved in the development of those local alcohol policies and the challenges they face,'' he said.

''Data on alcohol-related admissions to hospitals shows that availability of alcohol is a driver of hazardous drinking, leading to a high cost for DHBs.

''We are going to look at availability and price, to study the effect of that over time as well,'' he said.

Prof Kypros Kypri, of Melbourne, a co-investigator on the project, said public desire for better alcohol policy was strong and there was disappointment the Law Commission recommend-ations were watered down.

''It is important to know whether the new law is effective and we are delighted to see independent peer-reviewed research funded in this area,'' Prof Kypri said.