Attitude the key to change

Alcohol preloading by people who then go on to cause problems on Dunedin's streets has long been a claim of the city's bar owners and data released recently appears to back up at least some of those concerns.

Alco-link data, released recently to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act, showed the majority of people arrested during the past three years had their last drink at home.

The data revealed of those who admitted consuming alcohol before arrest, 51% had their last drink at home, while 18% had it in public and 31% had their last drink in a licensed premises.

Preloading is a trendy term for what used to be known as ''having a few drinks before hitting the town''.

But the increase of off-licence outlets, and the cut-throat nature of alcohol pricing, means a few quiet drinks now often turns into more of a solid drinking session before people take to the streets. It is not hard to understand why more drink at home when comparing the price of a pint in a pub to a slab of beer from the supermarket.

It is a hangover which continues to plague the industry.

Bar owners say the Alco-link statistics confirm what they have always claimed. They are not the main factor behind drunken crime and disorder in the city, it is the off-licences.

On-licence owners say they are unfairly targeted by police and licensing authorities who monitor their staff, opening hours and who they are selling alcohol to.

It is true on-licence premises are subject to tougher legislation than ever before, particularly since the legal drinking age was reduced to 18 in 1999.

Supermarkets, and off-licences in general, appear to have a freer rein and much of the power when it comes to the sale of alcohol. They have well-publicised ''specials'', and their purchasing volume allows them to sell at a significantly cheaper rate. They do not need to provide supervision for those consuming alcohol, as bars are required.

Police acknowledge they have little control over how much people drink in their homes but believe a minimum pricing could have an impact.

The Dunedin City Council attempted to get tougher on alcohol sellers through the introduction of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act and Dunedin's local alcohol policy (Lap), which was created under the Act.

However, the future of the Lap is up in the air after supermarkets appealed parts of it and the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority agreed some aspects were unreasonable, rendering the policy unenforceable.

Prof Jennie Connor, of the University of Otago's department of preventive and social medicine, said the statistics were only a tiny minority of alcohol-based harm and more availability of cheap alcohol in the community was going to do harm wherever it was consumed.

The best way to tackle the harm caused by alcohol consumption was through more stringent regulation - increase the price, restrict the number of places you can buy alcohol and stop the alcohol companies promoting these products.

There is no doubt excessive drinking is a problem throughout New Zealand, and Dunedin is no different. Crime, violence and antisocial behaviour are well publicised, but the impact on families, people's finances and health are also important to note.

Authorities can, and no doubt will, continue to push for further restrictions. But it is only an attitudinal change by New Zealanders which will ultimately reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

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