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Government Under Pressure Over Alcohol Prices

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Jimmy Ness and Hana Garrett-Walker of NZPA

Wellington, Oct 15 NZPA - Pressure is on the Government to raise the price of alcohol after it was revealed today that a standard drink of cask wine is cheaper than a glass of bottled water.

Statistics released by Otago University public health researchers have alarmed several groups who say government action needs to be taken.

The university's public health associate professor Nick Wilson and fellow researcher Fiona Gunasekara found that discounted cask wine could cost 62 cents for a standard drink, discounted beer 64 cents, discounted bottle wine 65 cents, and spirits 68 cents.

This compared with 67 cents for a 250ml glass of bottled water and 43 cents for a glass of milk.

The Green Party said the news that alcohol was cheaper than water undermined the Government's approach to alcohol reform, and should not be ignored.

"Raising the price of alcohol is without doubt the single most effective way to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and binge drinking," Green Party's alcohol spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said.

"Faced with this evidence [from the Otago University research], the Government must move to increase the price of alcohol - whether by increasing the tax on alcohol, or setting a minimum price," she said.

Justice Minister Simon Power said earlier this year it was extremely unlikely alcohol prices would be raised.

In August, Mr Power revealed the Government's proposed alcohol reform bill which is due to be introduced to Parliament later this month.

The bill included fines for those providing alcohol to under-18s without a guardian's consent and a split buying age of 18 at licensed premises and 20 at off-licenses.

Alcohol Action Group spokesman Professor Doug Sellman, from the National Addiction Centre, said the results confirmed what was already known.

"It's so disappointing that Government has not recognised [the problems with alcohol] by raising prices.

"At the moment we are going backward because of the excessive commercialisation of alcohol."

He said alcohol was vulnerable to the full weight of commercial prices and supermarkets used alcohol as bait to pull people into their stores.

The easiest thing for the Government to do was to increase prices, he said.

Hospitality New Zealand national operations manager Scott Necklen said his organisation wanted to raise cheap liquor prices, but didn't want to punish New Zealanders who did drink responsibly.

"We have concerns over supermarkets selling some beer and wine at extremely cheap prices.

"Raising tax would punish everybody. We want to target the binge drinkers."

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) agreed the results were alarming.

NZMA backed the view that price rises were an essential part of addressing binge drinking, chairman Peter Foley said.

"It is alarming that the affordability of alcohol has actually improved in recent years, making it even more difficult to address excess alcohol consumption."

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