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Perilous drinking triggers high suicide deaths

Tim Wilson
Auckland, July 22, 2022

In a land once known for Rugby, Racing and Beer, the boozy tide seems to be turning.

Last fortnight, Otago University released a survey linking one-quarter of our suicide deaths to alcohol. Published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the study gives alarming evidence of the perils of excess drinking.

New Zealand’s rate of 26% of suicide deaths involving alcohol is higher than the World Health Organisation’s global estimate of 19% is attributable to alcohol. Moreover, the proportion of female suicide deaths involving alcohol is higher than in Australia, a country not widely known as a bastion of temperance.

Ruinous effects of grog

Recently, newsman Patrick Gower’s TV documentary On Booze caused a commotion as he detailed the ruinous effects of grog on his own life, and why he has decided to kick the bottle. And drinking culture is also in the cross-hairs legislatively.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill has been drawn from the ballot and is expected to be debated next year.

Swarbrick intends that the bill will -amongst other things- correct deficiencies in the way communities control how alcohol is sold.

Here is the rub. We have been at this point before. The current legislation came into effect in late 2013, and according to one District Council release at the time, the object of the act was to reduce alcohol-related harm.

This hope was to be achieved by creating a Local Alcohol Policy, or LAP, to help locals decide how alcohol is sold in their area. What a great idea. One size does not fit all. And locals generally know communities well because they live there.

Graph from the New Zealand Medical Journal

Local Alcohol Policy

But in the words of one public health observer, ‘If the law was meant to optimise community voices it has done the exact opposite. As Alcohol Healthwatch notes, as of May 2022, 41 of the 67 Councils have adopted LAP. Of all the draft policies, the two supermarket chains have appealed 86% of them and bottle stores have appealed 72%.

Right now, there is no LAP in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch or Auckland.

Tim Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auckland Council’s LAP has been in appeal for seven years, is due to be heard at the Supreme Court, and has cost the Council over $1 million in legal fees alone.

Very laudably, Swarbrick aims to curtail the LAP appeals process with her amendments.

What will be interesting will be how the vested interests that engulfed the LAP procedure will respond to this new challenge. As Hāpai Te Hauora CEO Selah Hart has said, “It is going to come down to a conscience vote, and we know that many members of Parliament have interests or could be in some way, shape or form conflicted in making these decisions.”

So let us continue to think national, and act local. The tide may be turning for Kiwi drinking culture, and those who profit from it, but -as the past shows- tides can be turned back.

Tim Wilson is Executive Director of Maxim Institute based in Auckland.

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