In New Zealand alcohol is now cheaper than it ever was. This has created many problems for communities, draining their health and threatening safety. Cheap alcohol is creating and perpetuating addiction and inequalities.

Alcohol Healthwatch conducted an exploratory study to find out about the prices of alcohol in off-license outlets across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

Alcohol Healthwatch is an organisation of professionals dedicated to reducing and preventing alcohol harm and inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand. They are funded by the Ministry of Health.

For the study, Alcohol Healthwatch collected price data for 743 alcohol products from online retail sources. Totally, 12 bottle stores and 10 licensed supermarkets located in the most deprived areas of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland were included in the study.

They found that alcohol has gotten ultra cheap over the years in New Zealand.

For example, in 1988, a 3 liter of cask wine cost $15.00. If it had increased in price in line with inflation, it should cost $30.21 in today’s value. But it can currently be purchased at $23.00. This represents a 24% difference to the inflation-adjusted price.

Prices were determined per standard unit of alcohol (10g of pure alcohol). The study found:

  • Cask wine was the cheapest alcohol product per standard unit (77c), followed by bottled red and white wine (86c);
  • Beer and light spirits were sold for less than $1.00 per standard unit;
  • The cheapest spirits and Ready to Drink products (RTDs) were sold for less than $1.20 per standard unit;
  • Many of New Zealand’s most popular brands of beer, wine, RTDs and spirits were sold at $1.30 or less per standard unit; and
  • Supermarkets were found to offer the lowest-price alcohol products, often at considerably lower prices than the alcohol prices found in bottle stores. Multi-buy promotions offered the lowest of all prices per standard unit for wine (81c) and beer (85c).

At present, in New Zealand, a person can purchase so much alcohol to engage in binge drinking for as little as the price of a coffee.

Previous research published by the Health Promotion Agency showed that at present alcohol was more affordable than ever before in New Zealand. Between 2012 and 2017, the affordability of wine increased by more than 20%.

Cheap alcohol is a serious public health and safety concern for New Zealanders.

The low price of alcohol is fuelling alcohol harm and undoubtedly contributes to increased lockdown [alcohol use],” said Dr. Nicki Jackson, Director of Alcohol Healthwatch, as per New Zealand Doctor.

Every New Zealander is paying the cost of cheap alcohol many times over with reduced safety on our roads, increased crime, family and sexual violence, and poorer physical health and mental wellbeing.”

Dr. Nicki Jackson, Director, Alcohol Healthwatch

As per 2019/2020 data, one in four New Zealanders who use alcohol (25.7%) reported a high risk alcohol use pattern. This equates to 838,000 adults aged 15 years and over. Cheap alcohol creates and perpetuates alcohol problems. Cheap alcohol deepens inequalities in society by trapping the poor in its vicious cycle.

More than one in four (27.5%) New Zealanders who use alcohol reported consuming six or more standard units on one occasion at least monthly. Young adults who use alcohol aged 18 to 24 years had a very high prevalence of monthly heavy episodic alcohol use (total 39%; males 45.5%, females 32.1%).

Heavy [alcohol users] disproportionately purchase the cheapest alcohol – almost half of dependent [alcohol users] exclusively [consume] wine – and they also experience the most serious harms from alcohol,” said Dr. Jackson, as per New Zealand Doctor.

Availability and promotion of cheap alcohol also maintains long-standing inequities in alcohol harm, particularly experienced by Māori and Pasifika [alcohol users].” 

Dr. Nicki Jackson, Director, Alcohol Healthwatch

Salvation Army Assistant Territorial Secretary for Mission, Lt Colonel Lynette Hutson echos Dr. Jackson’s statements that cheap the alcohol products and practices of the alcohol industry fuel under-development and addiction.

Implementing evidence-based alcohol pricing policies, such as an excise tax increase for alcohol, will curb the problems caused by ultra cheap alcohol in New Zealand. Excise taxation on alcohol is a World Health Organization recommended best buy policy solution to reduce alcohol use and resulting harm.

Alcohol Healthwatch recommends:

  • Increase the alcohol excise tax rates by at least 50% (equating to an overall 10% increase in alcohol prices); and
  • Set a floor price or minimum unit price per standard alcohol unit.

A 50% excise tax increase would raise the price of a bottle of wine by around $1.40, of a 12-pack of beer or RTDs by around $2 to $4, and of a bottle of spirits by around $12. Not only will a tax increase be beneficial for public health but it will also save hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings to ACC, justice and health services.

New Zealand’s alcohol excise tax structure significantly under-taxes wine when compared to other beverages, resulting in it being the cheapest product,” said Dr. Jackson, as per New Zealand Doctor.

The Ministry of Justice showed that an overall 10% increase in alcohol prices will yield hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings to our justice and health services.”

Dr. Nicki Jackson, Director, Alcohol Healthwatch

Source Website: New Zealand Doctor