Thursday, May 01, 2008

Spirits in the buy

A South Island unit of New Zealand’s second-largest supermarket chain has applied to be allowed to sell spirits in their store. Currently, supermarkets are only allowed to sell beer and wine.

The NZ Police has opposed the move, saying that the buying power of supermarket chains will allow them to sell sweet ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs, also known as “alcopops”) at very low prices. The Police, joined by some social workers, say that it will make the problem of teenage binge drinking worse (the drinking age in New Zealand is 18).

The store plans on selling the spirits in a separate enclosed space, like a store within a store (I saw the same general concept used at a grocery story in Evanston, Illinois, but for all alcohol). New Zealand’s largest grocery chain already has liquor stores (called “bottle shops” in New Zealand) as stand-alone stores alongside their supermarkets.

While I sympathise with police who have to deal with the consequences of teenage binge drinking, I’m not sure that punishing everyone for the actions of some irresponsible people is the correct approach. In my homeland, spirits were sold in grocery stores, which made it convenient for shoppers who didn’t have to make additional stops. This didn’t make the problem worse than it is in New Zealand.

The drinking age in New Zealand may be too low, but the real problem is that underage teenagers are getting alcohol, and there seems to be little consequence for people delivering it to them. Very often it’s parents who are providing the alcohol to their underage children and their underage friends, but there’s little will to prosecute them. There’s also little effort to stigmatise inappropriate use of alcohol, even when some drunk kid kills himself and/or his friends driving drunk. None of that will be helped by making it hard for responsible people to buy spirits.

Government and laws have a role to play in structuring society, but it seems to me that the prime responsibility lies with the individual. Teenage binge drinking—like binge drinking in general—is a real problem, but this isn’t a case where prohibition will fix it, no matter how much wowsers might wish it would.


Scotty H said...

i agree Arthur.
a similar debates going on here. The Govt has just introduced a new 70% higher tax on Alcopops. It starts today, so there's been a huge rush on these drinks since the weekend. LOL

in Yobbo Australia, binge drinking is considered "Australian". Just go to London and hang out at some Aussie pubs. Scary.

In Queensland, it's illegal for supermarkets to sell ANY alcohol. You have to go to a Bottle-o for that; or pub.

The Australian argues it props up the Chardy Set; those wine snobs, who can afford it, while discriminating against the white trash who buy alcopops, and can't afford it.

Arthur Schenck said...

Oddly enough, some folks in New Zealand are proposing a similar tax here, but the Revenue Minister rubbished the idea, pointing out--correctly--that it'll only shift the problem onto other drinks. And what's to stop them from buying big bottles of spirits and mixing their own "alcopops"? I remember many a novice drinker when I was a youngun started with rum and Coke or other sweet cocktails.