Asia-Pacific

New Zealand proposes new rules on alcohol sales

New Zealand's government has proposed several changes to alcohol laws in a bid to curb youth drinking.

Only those over 20 - up from 18 - will be allowed to buy alcohol from shops.

The sale of pre-mixed drinks with more than 5% alcoholic content will be banned, as will be other products deemed geared to the youth market.

Justice Minister Simon Power said New Zealand had to tackle serious alcohol-related issues; critics say the measures are half-hearted.

Mr Power said that alcohol was estimated to contribute to 1,000 deaths a year in New Zealand and was implicated in 30% of all offences recorded by police.

"What the government has heard from the New Zealand public is that the pendulum has swung too far towards relaxation of alcohol laws," he said.

"But there is a balance to be struck between not unfairly affecting responsible drinkers and dealing with the considerable harm alcohol causes."

But the government package has been attacked as half-hearted by some observers, who said more dramatic action was needed to shock participants in the so-called drinking culture into change.

The director of Christchurch's National Addiction Centre, Professor Doug Sellman, said the government was wrong to see alcohol abuse as essentially a youth problem.

Research found that 92% of New Zealand's heavy drinkers were 20 years and over, and 70% were 25 and over, Alcohol Action NZ said.

The government had avoided the big policy decisions, such as increasing prices and restricting advertising, and ended up with a package that was "like treating cancer with a couple of aspirin", Prof Sellman said.

Members of parliament will vote on the proposals according to individual conscience, not party lines, so the reforms' passage is not guaranteed.

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