Doctors call for drinking age increase

Top New Zealand doctors are calling for the drinking age to be raised to 20 and booze sponsorship banned from public events in a push to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The New Zealand Medical Association released its Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm policy briefing today.

It recommends a raft of changes including hiking the drinking age, phasing out alcohol marketing and sponsorship at sporting and cultural events, stepping up screening and treatment services, introducing better education initiatives and raising alcohol taxes.

NZMA chairman Dr Stephen Child said more than half a million New Zealanders consumed alcohol in a harmful way - and doctors saw the effect in hospitals and waiting rooms every day.

Doctors were limited in the actions they could take and the Government should be doing more to implement lasting change, he said.

"We're continuing to see the same harms.

"This is not an ordinary commodity in our society, it's a commodity that is toxic and that is addictive. It causes cancer at the same level as this is an issue that, as doctors, we feel we need to speak out on behalf of our patients."

The briefing stated the most recent set of liquor law changes, introduced in 2012 to lower drink-driving limits and restrict trading hours, did not go far enough.

But Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the 2012 legislation changes needed time to take effect before any more change was considered.

A recent Ministry of Health report showed a reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed, particularly among younger New Zealanders, since the law was passed.

"I believe the 2012 changes are effective and need more time to bed down fully before any further changes are considered," he said.

Alcohol Drug Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Rout said there was strong evidence to support the NZMA recommendations.

New Zealand was paying a very high price for alcohol consumption, Mr Rout said.

There would be a lot of resistance against the recommendations from people in the alcohol industry but it would be worth the push, he said.

"At the moment we're a society that's swamped with large amounts of highly-promoted cheap booze.

"It's those big policy regulation issues that are the key solutions to this issue. It's a question of whether our political masters have the will to make the changes."

Family First NZ said politicians should not be turning a blind eye to calls by the NZMA to raise the drinking age.

"Health boards, health professionals, police, family groups, addiction experts, the Prime Minister's chief science adviser, leading scientists, and the general public - including young people - have all been shouting to politicians to raise the drinking age to 20 in order to protect young people and to save lives," said Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

"The polls confirm that politicians are out of touch with grassroots New Zealanders on this issue. And now the medical profession is calling the politicians out of touch with reality," he said.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Government was currently considering a report into sports advertising by the Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship which was set up to combat alcohol harm in 2014.

- Lauren Priestley of NZME. News Service

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