Our environment is s a strong determinant of our health. If 15 people per week were dying from contaminated water supplies, our public health system would be highly engaged in identifying and eliminating the cause of it.

Currently 15 people are dying per week from alcohol related causes- 5 of those deaths being from cancer. Our public health officials are well aware of this, and are making every effort to persuade our government to regulate the commercial environment that encourages low prices, ubiquitous advertising and easy availability- a deadly triad of conditions for drugs that pose a risk to public health, including alcohol.

Unfortunately there are massive commercial interests that get in the way of adopting health alcohol policy that would reduce the huge harm that alcohol causes in New Zealand.

The WHO Constitution was the first international instrument to enshrine the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being. The right to health in international human rights law is a claim to a set of social arrangements – norms, institutions, laws, and an enabling environment – that can best secure the enjoyment of this right.

Our country spends about 3% of GDP on harm from alcohol, currently about $7 billion dollars a year. The alcohol industry that profits from selling this harmful product does not contribute substantially to paying for the damage. Action by the Government to reduce the amount of harm using population wide controls on alcohol that are known to work, could free up funding for high quality and accessible health services for all New Zealanders. It could reduce the suffering caused by the 200 medical conditions that are caused by alcohol, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and a substantial proportion of suicides, and it could reduce the harm to families of heavy drinkers.

Our goal is not prohibition, but to advocate for policies that lower the risk associated with alcohol so we can enjoy it without paying the huge price that we currently do.

New Zealand’s alcohol commercialisation costs billions per year as well as the devastating human cost. We endure an ongoing alcohol crisis as part of the kiwi way of life.

Getting to grips with the problem starts with recognising:

  • Alcohol is a legalised drug and here to stay.
  • Alcohol is currently pushed by powerful commercial forces

Like smoking, however, our heavy drinking culture can be dismantled. The World Health Organisation has set out a clear set of policy directives to do this:

  • Price: End ultra cheap alcohol, beginning with a minimum price for a standard drink
  • Access: End highly normalised access to alcohol, by restoring supermarkets to being alcohol free
  • Advertising and Marketing: Ban all alcohol advertising and sponsorship except objective printed info
  • Drink Driving: End legal drunk driving by reducing the adult blood alcohol level to at least 0.05.

Prior to the Sale and Supply of Liquor act being passed in 2012 over 3000 people wrote a submission to the Law Commission’s review of alcohol laws. The Law Commission listened to the evidence and wrote a report calling on the Government to overhaul New Zealand’s alcohol laws. Its advice closely followed the World Health Organisation directives.

The Government of the day, however,  dodged the recommendations and instead obfuscated by saying its minor and ineffectual changes were “balanced”.

Now that we have a new government that is signalling transformation, we need to send a strong evidence based public signal.

This presents the opportunity to have your say and play your part in creating a wave of pressure by getting friends, family and colleagues involved.