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The Government’s rejection of the Law Commission’s proposal to raise alcohol excise tax flies in the face of common sense and incontrovertible scientific evidence.
The research may be complex but it is also irrefutable. Raising the price of alcohol reduces consumption – including among heavy drinkers and young people – and reduces harms such as car crashes, violence and disease. It also reduces the likelihood of young or moderate drinkers becoming heavy drinkers.
The often heard but mischievous sound bite about ‘penalising the majority of responsible New Zealanders’ is just cleverly constructed misinformation. New Zealanders who drink moderately will incur only minor cost increases from a 50 percent rise in excise tax. An average 330ml can of beer would cost just 17 cents more, and an $11 bottle of wine would go up by just 96 cents.
In fact, alcohol is already costing us dearly – whether through delay in getting treatment at an emergency department flooded with intoxicated patients each weekend or through our tax dollars funding the frontline services mopping up the effects of this epidemic. (Alcohol-related issues suck up at least 18 percent of the total Police budget.)
It is therefore critical that revenue from excise tax directly funds the mitigation of alcohol harms including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services. We can learn from the experience across the ditch. In 1992, the Northern Territory put an extra 5 cent levy on every standard drink sold and used the revenue to fund a range of alcohol harm prevention and rehabilitation measures. Evaluation showed significant decline in alcohol-attributable mortality as a result.
The World Health Organization identifies raising prices as an ideal policy instrument for reducing substance harm. Our Government clearly understands this when it comes to tobacco, yet has chosen to ignore this advice when it comes to alcohol.
Of course, price alone won’t solve the problem, which is precisely why the Law Commission says Government should adopt its recommendations as a package and not just cherry pick the least politically risky options.
The Law Commission’s final report is comprehensive, balanced and firmly evidence-based. Raising excise tax is no magic bullet, but as part of a balanced package of measures, it will significantly contribute towards reducing the ongoing carnage from alcohol misuse plaguing our communities.
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