In a study published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, health researchers Dr Fiona Gunasekara and Associate Professor Nick Wilson reveal that as average wages have risen, the relative cost of alcohol has dropped steadily in New Zealand.
This means less time is now needed for the average worker to earn enough to pay for alcohol to reach the legal limit for intoxicated driving (80mg/dL).
In 1999 based on the average hourly earnings in relation to the cost of beer, it took 21 minutes to pay for the alcohol intake required to reach the legal driving limit, whereas in 2009 it took only 17 minutes.
But in 2009 it took 7 minutes of work, or only $2.78, to reach this level if drinking cheaper cask wine.
“Our analysis suggests alcohol is now probably the cheapest recreational drug in New Zealand and has become increasingly affordable, at the same time as concern about binge drinking culture has grown,” says Associate Professor Nick Wilson.
“International scientific evidence strongly indicates that cheap alcohol is a factor in promoting binge drinking by young people, and in increasing the overall size of the health and social harm from alcohol misuse.”
Exacerbating the problem of more affordable alcohol is heavily advertised discounting by supermarkets and liquor stores. Discount cask wine can be purchased as low as 62cents per standard drink in terms of alcohol content, bottled wine at 65c and spirits at 78c per standard drink, and beer at 64c.
By way of comparison a 250ml glass of milk costs somewhat less at 43c and bottled water somewhat more at 67c a glass.
The researchers say that the negative effects of cheap alcohol on New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing, and on the taxpayer-funded health services, need to be addressed through higher alcohol excise tax.
They say the Government is “shooting itself in the foot” by spending ever more funds on health and crime from alcohol-related problems, while ignoring the powerful policy instrument of alcohol excise tax.
“This government was very smart when it raised tobacco tax, but not so smart in ignoring the Law Commission’s recent recommendation for higher alcohol taxes.”
The researchers also say the Government should consider a ban on below-cost discounting and marketing around price, as well as a minimum price per unit of alcohol, particularly with regard to cask wine and ready-to-drink beverages (alcopops).
These actions should be done with other scientifically proven policies such as: restrictions on alcohol marketing and sponsorship, restrictions on availability through limiting the density and opening hours of off-license premises, and reducing the legal blood alcohol level for driving.
They say these policies will have little impact on moderate drinkers, and will help curb the down-side of New Zealand’s binge drinking culture.
For further information contact
Associate Professor Nick Wilson
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob: 021 2045 523