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Raising alcohol age would be 'unfair' - campaign group

Published: 1:15PM Monday April 23, 2012 Source: ONE News

Raising the legal drinking age would unnecessarily punish 18 and 19-year-olds, a spokesperson from a youth campaign group says.

Sean Topham from Keep It 18 told TV ONE's Breakfast today that New Zealand's problem drinking culture is not isolated to the under-20 age group.

His comments follow claims that support for returning the drinking age to 20 is gaining momentum.

Keep It 18 is a joint campaign from Act on Campus, Young Greens, Young Labour and the Young Nationals to fight raising the alcohol purchase age.

"We don't want to make an unfair blanket rule where we have been discriminating against 18 and 19 year-olds who have been largely drinking responsibly," said Topham.

"Punishing them, using them as a scapegoat... is totally unfair."

MPs are expected to vote on the purchase age provisions of the Alcohol Reform Bill in the next couple of months.

The drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1999. Health leaders want it restored to 20, saying the evidence points to that as the only option.

The Alcohol Reform Bill would allow 18-year-olds to buy alcohol in licensed premises, but restrict off-license purchases to those 20 and older.

Topham said the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand has indicated a decrease of 21% in problem drinking between the ages of 12 and 17 over the last five years.

However, Rebecca Williams from Alcohol Health Watch said the age should still be raised, saying the level of harm from alcohol to young people is still a problem.

"We've got 34% of school-age people that are drinking at levels that will cause problems that will harm them during their course in life," she said.

Williams would like to see the age for both off and on-license premises raised to 20.

"I think the split age is based on the premise that somehow, licensed premises are safe," she said.

Williams said on-license premises allow and encourage problems surrounding binge-drinking as much as off-license premises.

As of 12.30pm today, a poll showed 35% of people thought raising the drinking age would not solve problem drinking, 24% thought it was the best solution and 26% thought the age for both off and on-license premises should be raised. 15% said no measure will stop binge drinking.