Survey results this week that showed the rate of teenage
binge drinking is now slightly higher among girls than boys
were alarming but not altogether surprising.
The survey, by Massey University's Social and Health Outcomes
Research and Evaluation (Shore) public health unit, found
among 16-to-17-year-old drinkers, 28% of girls and 25% of
boys drank at least eight standard drinks in a typical
drinking session last year.
The number of girls in the 16 to 17 and 18 to19 age groups
having at least eight drinks at a sitting had almost doubled
since a 2004 survey; the number of boys drinking at least
eight standard drinks fell in both age groups.
Shore director Prof Sally Casswell said the increase up to
2004 followed the arrival of ready-to-drink (RTD) "alcopops"
in 1995 and the lowering of the drinking age from 20 to 18 in
1999. Dr Simon Denny, who led an Auckland University Youth
2007 study, also said the Massey survey results could reflect
the alcohol industry's targeting of young women with RTDs.
A report on women and alcohol, released the same day, found
RTDs made up 70% of the alcohol intake of girls aged 14 to17
and that RTD drinkers usually drank more in a session than
those drinking other spirits, beer or wine. Dr Casswell said
the high binge drinking among girls aged 16 to 17 might
reflect "young women associating with older drinkers".
Men were more likely than women to binge drink at all ages
from 18 upwards and Dr Casswell said overall men were
drinking two-thirds of the alcohol available in New Zealand.
The survey will likely bring the usual hand wringing, calls
for action, and reflection of our drinking culture. But
should we be surprised?
The results were based on last year's consumption, but there
is no reason to believe they would be any better this year or
next. At the end of August, Parliament voted 68 to 53 in
favour of keeping the alcohol purchase age at 18 after a
Although retailers should check the age of young people
buying alcohol, we also know from various council and police
stings this is not always done and therefore people younger
than 18 are able to buy alcohol. Of course, some is also
bought and supplied by parents, relatives and friends.
The alcohol purchase age was the first part of the
Government's Alcohol Reform Bill to be debated.
Justice Minister Judith Collins said then the Bill aimed "to
drive lasting change to our drinking culture", had "a wide
range of measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in our
families and communities" and was "the first time in more
than two decades that any government is acting to restrict
rather than relax our drinking laws".
But the purchase age vote was criticised as a missed
opportunity. And the whole Bill, which is progressing through
the House, has also been criticised as not going far enough
in terms of adopting the recommendations of the 2010 Law
Commission, including minimum alcohol pricing, raising the
age limit on buying alcohol and limiting the alcohol content
of some drinks.
Last month, a $10 million investment package to reduce harm
from alcohol and drug abuse was announced by Justice Minister
Simon Power and Health Minister Tony Ryall. The package is
designed to complement the Alcohol Reform Bill and the
Government's Drivers of Crime programme. Its funding, from
alcohol excise revenue, is in addition to the about $120
million spent annually on alcohol and drug treatment
services. It is clear action is being taken to address the
issue but the jury is out on whether that action will make
the necessary difference on the ground. Ms Collins says the
Government "can't do it alone ...
We all have a role to play in shifting our drinking culture,
towards more moderate and responsible alcohol consumption."
And she is right. In the pursuit of our freedoms, we are
clearly failing to keep our children free from harm.
If that can't be guaranteed through individual, parental,
societal, manufacturer and retailer responsibility, it is
beholden on the Government to act. It may not go far enough
for some - and too far for others. But as Parliament
continues to debate the issues, all New Zealanders should
also examine their own attitudes around alcohol and indulge
in less finger-pointing and more role-modelling.