'1000 killed every year' by alcohol
By TOM HUNT - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2010

Alcohol kills about 1000 New Zealanders each year, says a leading doctor who is calling for a clampdown on sales.

Geoff Robinson part of a team who recently claimed that if alcohol was introduced today it would be classified as a Class B drug alongside amphetamines and morphine is calling for alcohol to be removed from supermarket shelves and sold only in specialist shops.

Dr Robinson, Capital and Coast District Health Board's chief medical officer, also called for a ban on all alcohol advertising.

He supported measures proposed in a Law Commission review of alcohol legislation being considered by Parliament, but said they did not go far enough.

A group of prominent New Zealanders led by former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves are supporting the "once-in-a-generation-opportunity" Law Commission report to help solve the alcohol "crisis".

The report recommends raising alcohol taxes, further restricting advertising, increasing the legal drinking age and lowering the legal blood alcohol limit.

Dr Robinson's calls come as the Coroner's Office reports that 1128 alcohol-related deaths were referred to it in the past decade. There were 137 cases referred to the office last year.

Dr Robinson said these were just a few of the alcohol-related deaths in New Zealand. He estimated there were about 1000 a year, including deaths from alcohol-related accidents, trauma and organ damage.

About 700,000 New Zealand adults, or 25 per cent of the adult population, frequently binge drank having six or more standard drinks on a single occasion while 2 to 4 per cent of the population were alcohol dependent.

Though alcohol caused different damage from illegal drugs such as morphine and amphetamines, the harm it caused including organ failure, accidents and death was no less severe and if it were put through the same criteria as illicit drugs, it would be a Class B drug, Dr Robinson said.

"For various historical and cultural reasons there is still much community and individual acceptance of drunkenness, with a purview that it is tolerated or even generally amusing."

There was little political will for wider-reaching alcohol laws because they were not "vote catchers".

Educating people about the dangers of alcohol was "much less effective than the sort of controls we are talking about", Dr Robinson said.

In May, Chief Coroner Neil MacLean issued statistics showing 12 teenagers some as young as 13 had died from binge-drinking since July 1, 2007.

Mr MacLean said this week there was a steady number of New Zealanders, of all ages, "simply drinking themselves to death".

He believed the problem had worsened during the 30 years he had been a coroner.

Though there was a "groundswell" of support to clamp down on alcohol, the Coroner's Office did not have recommendations for how to deal with the issue. However, the Law Commission's recommendations seemed sensible, he said.

National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said the rising death rate correlated with increased heavy drinking among Kiwi youth after the lowering of the buying age in 1999.

After publication of the Law Commission report, Newtown New World, which has an alcohol stand by its front door, came under some public pressure to move its display.

A spokesman from Foodstuffs, New Zealand's largest supermarket chain and owner of New World, said the company would happily abide by any law change.

A sign was recently put up at the Newtown store saying the liquor stand would not be moved before any law change was passed.

From here.