Anglican Church backs tough drinking measures

The Anglican Church has backed a number of strong measures to try to deal with binge drinking.

Three days after the death of King's College student James Webster in Auckland, following an apparent alcohol overdose, the church's general synod today backed calls for a rise in the price of alcohol, a rise in the legal drinking age and a cut in marketing.

The 16-year-old's death prompted calls to Prime Minister John Key, whose son attends King's College, to do more to stop young people drinking excessively, though Mr Key said raising the drinking age would not have saved the boy's life.

Meeting in Gisborne today, the Anglican General Synod invited Professor Doug Sellman from the National Addiction Centre to speak about binge drinking culture.

He put forward a number of solutions to deal with the issue: raising alcohol prices, raising the purchase age, reducing the accessibility to alcohol, reducing marketing and advertising, increasing drink-driving countermeasures and increasing treatment opportunities for heavy drinkers.

"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way we regulate alcohol in society. It is a national crisis and way of life, and you have a role to address what science tells us what needs to be treated as a Class B drug," he said.

The Synod today backed Prof Sellman's proposals, and members also voted to increase their own vigilance of alcohol consumption and to hold each other to account.

"We as a church need to speak out and bring hope to what is a situation of hopelessness and as we speak out we also need to look at ourselves," Archbishop David Moxon told delegates.

The Synod will tomorrow debate whether it supports banning the advertising of alcohol.

A 500-page Law Commission report released last month recommended returning the alcohol drinking and purchasing age to 20, clamping down on advertising and promotion of alcohol, canning 24-hour trading and increasing excise tax by 50 percent.

The Government is considering the report, though ministers have indicated they do not support increasing excise tax.

Dr Margaret Abercrombie, like Mr Key, has a son at King's College in Auckland and wrote to the prime minister saying the Government needed to take action to stop the youth drinking culture from claiming more lives.

She said her 13-year-old son at King's faced pressure from schoolmates to drink. They drank until they vomited, which sometimes saved their lives.

Mr Key told reporters it was "a tremendous tragedy and my sympathies go to the Webster family and to the wider King's family".

However, he noted that it was illegal for James to purchase the alcohol he obtained and changing the law would not have made a difference.

"Clearly the Government and Parliament in general is considering the Law Commission's recommendations. But it is worth noting ... this young boy was 16 years of age. That would have no impact in terms of raising the drinking age which is currently 18. He's below the drinking age," Mr Key said.

"I think people look to the Government for leadership and that's wholly appropriate but I think as a country we need to try and embrace these issues and do the best that we can.

"I think we've also got to acknowledge that parents of teenagers have a very difficult job and it's not easy, youngsters will always make mistakes."



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