New Zealand drinking more in 2008

New Zealanders are drinking more according to the latest figures, and that means more weekend binges and young people lured onto alcopops, says the agency promoting responsible use of alcohol.

During 2008 the total volume of alcohol available for consumption increased 3.4 percent to 486.4 million litres from 2007, Statistics New Zealand said today.

The volume of pure alcohol available per person aged 15 years and over increased 3.3 percent to 9.5 litres. It was the highest volume since 1994.

Spirits and spirit-based drinks now represent 14.3 percent of the total alcohol available for consumption, continuing a steady increase since 1996.

Consumption of spirits increased to 8 million litres, up 5.5 percent on the previous year and now accounts for 25 per cent of the total consumption of alcohol per capita.

"People are drinking more; on one level it is as simple as that, said Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) chief executive Gerard Vaughan.

The figures on their own, if they showed people were increasing their drinking across the week and in a responsible manner, would not be a concern, but ALAC knew that wasn't the case, he said.

Other statistics showed the huge harm and cost on the police and hospital systems, he said.

With its drinking age, alcohol availability and drink-driving restrictions, New Zealand had a liberal drinking environment, he said.

While acknowledging that alcohol was an enjoyable part of New Zealand life, the big harm was from our drinking patterns. "Unfortunately New Zealanders do not drink in a sophisticated manner. We are a country that tends to save up our drinking for a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and drink large amounts."

Mr Vaughan said increase in spirit consumption was driven by the emergence of the relatively-recent ready-to-drink products, or alcopops.

That was concerning because of its packaging, high sugar, masking of the alcohol taste and high alcohol content made them attractive to younger drinkers. They were also priced to appeal.

"If your intention is to get out of it then it won't cost you that much."

ALAC had tracked community attitudes over the last five years and seen significant shifts in understanding of problems of binge drinking.

"But I think we haven't really made the impact into the binge drinking culture.

"It's taken us 100 years to firmly establish a problematic drinking culture. We need to think this is about generational change."

The Statistics NZ figures are taken from the New Zealand Customs Service, based on duty paid, and indicates how much is actually released to the market but not what is actually consumed.

Beer was still the most popular type of alcoholic beverage in New Zealand and last year there were 322.5 million litres of beer available, which makes up 66.3 percent of the total beverage available for consumption. Wine was up 2.3 percent to 94.2m litres

Meanwhile, the number of cigarettes available for consumption was up 4.3 percent, to 2.5 billion in 2008.
This increase in cigarettes contrasted with a decrease in the amount of tobacco available for consumption, which was down 3.7 percent to 870 tonnes in 2008.