Helping societies drink responsibly

In a not entirely unsurprising finding, a researcher in the USA has discovered that alcohol related deaths will fall if you increase taxes on alcohol.

No kidding. We seem to have that pretty well figured out in New Zealand and Australia.

I’d like to see a much broader international scale study relating the inputs to alcohol consumption to the alcohol related deaths and costs.

You’d have to take account not just the cost of alcohol, but also the ability to access alochol (age, time restrictions, location restrictions), the relative differences in GDP per person, the alcohol of choice in each jurisdiction, media campaigns for or against alcohol and the way people drink.

I would think that each of those is a bit more subtle than we’d believe, and some of those correlations are actually going to be negative.

Let’s pick one example – access to alcohol.

Responsible drinking appears to me to be a function of the laxness of the local laws. The more you allow people to access alcohol, the more responsibly as a society they tend to treat it.

Downunder and in the UK we struggle with the way we drink – binge drinking, while mainland Europeans (French especially) on the surface at least seem to drink more responsibly. I feel that’s a legacy of forcing closing times, whether 6 O’Clock, 11 O’Clock or 1 O’Clock.

There are clearly exceptions, but witness France and mainland Europe, where children can buy and drink alcohol, and alcohol is available all hours. As a result people tend to get over the whole getting drunk and being stupid thing at a very young age, and learn self restraint. The societal norm is that being drink is stupid.

At the other end of the scale consider Perth, where everyone is turfed out onto the streets from the pubs at 1am. Thus too many people drink hard until that set finishing time, rather than deciding when they have had enough and quietly drifting home. It also causes stress on transport services, whether that is taxis (not around for the drunken yobos), public transport (closed) or drunk-driving (all too prevalant). The societal norm is that being drunk is something to brag about the next day (after the hangover has dissapated).

To me the greatest difference between they way France and Perth treat alcohol is that in France alcohol comes in a cafe – with cheap food and relatively expensive alcohol, while in Australia it alcohol comes in big drinking barns, where non alcoholic drinks are as expensive as alcoholic ones, where food is impossible to get after 8pm and the focus is on the booze. Incredibly although state licensing laws now allow smaller establishments (cafes) to obtain a liquor license, the local governments seem to be hellbent on rejecting them application by application.

I feel that Wellington has moved a long way from the days of yore, towards the French approach. Belive me it’s easy to tell by comparing a stroll around Wellington at midnight Friday/Saturday (lots of fun) versus Fremantle at the same time. In Fremantle (which is relatively small) there are almost always several police cars and those police will see a very active time mopping up after fights.Walking around can be a frightening experience – unless you are spoiling for a fight and a trip in hte paddy wagon.

Published by Lance Wiggs


2 replies on “Helping societies drink responsibly”

  1. I totally agree.
    As an ex-Aucklander now living in Switzerland, the vast difference in the attitudes to alcohol has really impressed me. The Swiss (and as you say, the rest of Europe) don’t have the alcohol-related hang-ups that Kiwis do.

    Now I could hop on a train at lunchtime drinking a 500ml can of beer here in Zürich and no-one would bat an eyelid. It’s normal.
    If I did that in Auckland, normal reasonable people would assume that there was something wrong with me (has he fallen off the wagon?), and if spotted by a cop, I’d probably be arrested (if I was in one of the many alcohol-free public areas that are popping up around Auckland). And of course you’re not allowed any food or drink on public transport in Auckland.

    Sure, you get the odd bunch of rowdy drunk teenagers, but as you say, they grow out of it.

    I think NZ society has some other related social issues as well. For example, I notice here in Switzerland that it is entirely appropriate for women of all ages/shapes/sizes to wear a bikini when swimming in a public place. That’s just what you wear. And yet the number of sexually-related/motived crimes in Switzerland is significantly lower than in NZ, where girls go swimming in public wearing long boardshorts and t-shirts.

    Why is that?


Comments are closed.