Drinking Age Debate in New Zealand

Once again a group starts on a rant about raising the drinking age in NZ.  There is quite a bit wrong with the argument, but probably the most significant is that there ISN’T a drinking age in NZ, there is a PURCHASE age.  And yes, there IS a big difference!

The media keep getting it wrong.  Case and point is the NZ Herald back in NOV last year – the headline is all about Drinking Age Legislation.  The headline is 100% misleading, but the 1st paragraph gets it right:

Legislation introducing the change to a split drinking age will be one step closer after it is tabled in Parliament next week, Justice Minister Simon Power says.

But the journalist then reports the correct facts in the next paragraph without seeing the error in the headline.  There is no drinking age, and the proposed changes don’t talk about one either!

The drinking/purchase age issue is explained well on KiwiBlog, but in a nutshell I agree with DPF on this.  I also think there are two issues with drinking in NZ, and the purchase age actually isn’t one of those issues.  My view is the two big alcohol issues are:

  • Lack of a drinking age
  • Binge drinking behaviour in NZ

Raising the purchase age doesn’t fix any of these. The problem with the ban it brigade is that it restricts and punishes the majority from based on the behaviour of the minority.  Just like saying let’s ban alcohol in all public council spaces sounds like a good policy to stop louts getting drunk and ruining it for others, but it also says you can’t have a picnic in a park with a glass of wine, or fish and chips and a beer on the beach on a Sunday evening.  The correct solution is MUCH harder than banning something – it actually involves targeting those that ruin it for others, finding them and using teh existing laws in NZ to punish them (or at the very least stop them from doing it again).  Oh yes, but this is hard.  Banning something is MUCH easier (and of course doesn’t fix the problem, coz the minority who ruin it for everyone else will in many cases just ignore the ban anyway).

I have the same problem with a drinking age of 21.  At 18 a person can get married, flight for their country (in fact be drafted if there is a war), be charged for any offense as an adult.  In fact there isn’t ANYTHING they can’t do as an adult. Oh wait, except drink some would have you believe.  Yeah right, that’s the most important thing in my list (btw, that was sarcasm in case you missed it).

Some argue all about how teenagers are drinking too much and dieing of alcohol poisoning, or drinking and driving.  Well IMO, NONE of this would be fixed by having a higher purchase age.  Just like some people drink 10 x the adult limit and drive and kill someone, calls for people to lower the alcohol limit when driving.  Well sorry, that’s not going to solve anything.  As I said above the 2nd problem NZ has is binge drinking.  And THAT should be addressed, but not by raising any purchase age.

Banning something won’t changing behaviour.  So banning 19 year olds from drinking won’t stop a small minority from binge drinking and driving, or drinking till they kill themselves.  The focus needs to be on education, not banning stuff for everyone.

Black and White Version: Media and lobby groups need to get it right.  There is no drinking age laws in NZ.  There is only a purchase age for alcohol.  The lack of a drinking age, and binge drinking are the issues.

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