Wellington study suggests further legislation needed to reduce New Zealand alcohol abuse

A study led by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington researchers has shown that legal requirements around the display of alcohol could be doing more to reduce alcohol consumption in New Zealand.

Wine bottles on display

The study, led by Dr Karen McBride-Henry, director of the University’s Health Services Research Centre, investigated supermarket compliance with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

“Supermarkets are the most popular place in New Zealand to purchase alcohol, so the way alcohol is promoted and sold in supermarkets could have a significant impact on drinking in New Zealand,” says Dr McBride-Henry.

Dr McBride-Henry and her colleagues found that the supermarkets they studied were generally compliant with the law. However, there were some breaches such as selling other products alongside alcohol and setting up ‘temporary’ alcohol sales areas, which breaches the requirement under the act for a ‘single alcohol area’.

However, their study also found that even in supermarkets that were highly compliant with the law, alcohol was still highly visible and accessible to consumers—meaning that while the letter of the law was followed, the spirit of the law, reducing alcohol consumption, was not, says Dr McBride-Henry.

Of particular concern was the level of exposure that vulnerable populations, such as children, received to alcohol and alcohol-related advertising.

“A critical point of intervention in preventing life-long alcohol-related harm is in childhood,” says Dr McBride-Henry. “Twenty percent of adult New Zealanders are hazardous drinkers, and approximately a third of those drinkers starting abusing alcohol as young adults.

“The act has failed to protect consumers, including those most at risk—like children—from alcohol promotion and marketing.”

Based on their results, Dr McBride-Henry and her colleagues have suggested potential changes to the law to help reduce alcohol purchase and consumption in New Zealand.

“Some potential solutions to reducing alcohol abuse could be extending the legislation to restrict placement of alcohol sales areas to low-traffic parts of the supermarket,” says Dr McBride-Henry. “Other possibilities would include banning the use of promotional practices like in-store samples or reducing the hours alcohol is available for purchase to hours when children, for example, are less likely to be in the supermarket.”

The tool used to assess supermarkets in this study could also be used alongside legislation to ensure objective testing of supermarket compliance, making requirements easy to follow and ensuring consistency across New Zealand, Dr McBride-Henry says.