By Tariana Turia
I’m not someone who looks for the joke in any situation. So when someone suggested we should be called the ‘pleasure police’ because of our campaign to eliminate social hazards I’d have to say I didn’t find it funny.
Where’s the funny side in losing loved ones through alcohol-fuelled violence; through lung cancer; through respiratory illness? What humour can be found in families being torn about as a result of problem gambling, or the relentless pursuit of an individual addiction?
I’m more interested in our whānau being able to create the change that will mean they can restore an enduring pleasure in their lives – solutions which enhance wellbeing; strategies to keep our families healthy and connected.
It’s from that basis that we have been working on tobacco reform; introducing a private members bill to reduce gambling harm and, more recently, amendments to the Alcohol Reform Bill.
The news this week has been all around minimum pricing. I understand the Prime Minister is not convinced that altering the price will make much of a difference, that it might force people to drink poorer quality liquor instead of drinking less - but I beg to differ.
My colleague, Te Ururoa Flavell, has tabled a raft of amendments to reduce alcohol related harm. He released the amendments a month ago now and it has been great to see the debate occurring as various commentators share their views on reform.
One of the amendments that has provoked the greatest debate is our proposal to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol. We were informed by similar developments in the Scottish Parliament which passed the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill in the middle of May – and a public discussion occurring in Australia to ascertain the public interest for a minimum price for alcohol.
The Australian National Preventive Health Agency was asked by Commonwealth Government to develop a public interest case for a minimum price (floor price) of alcohol – to discourage harmful consumption and promote safer consumption.
It’s a laudable project – and it would be great to see such a discussion happen here.
So what do they mean by harmful consumption? The rollcall of risks gives grounds for despair. Harmful alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of morbidity and mortality; whether by alcohol-attributable injuries (road injuries, falls and violent assaults) or disease caused by harmful use, such as liver cirrhosis.
And of course harmful consumption is not just an individual ill. Public safety is threatened; workplace productivity, vandalism, accidents, along with the general nuisance factor.
I read a really distressing article about the links between our high youth suicide rates and the prevalence of binge drinking. Dr Annette Beautrais, a suicide researcher at the University of Auckland, described the increased risk for our young people who are entangled in a binge-drinking culture. She gave an example of a teenage boy, reacting impulsively; the uninhibiting effects of alcohol leading him towards a tragedy that might not have occurred had he not been intoxicated.
“Suicide is an option he thinks of, but it’s not necessarily associated with any long period of ideation.……There’s typically a lethal combination of some sort of social or precipitating crisis, plus intoxication and access to a lethal method”.
The World Health Organisation states clearly that increasing alcohol price is one of the most effective strategies for reducing alcohol consumption. So why wouldn’t we try to save lives, to put in place a strategy to intervene with the alcohol market and target price?
Introducing a minimum price will immediately eliminate the sale of ultra-cheap alcohol. It targets the most vulnerable; the young and the heaviest drinkers.
Of course it’s not the whole answer. There’s also the widespread availability and access to alcohol; the glamorisation of drinking through heavy advertising and the liberalisation of laws which have led to increased outlets and social acceptance.
Te Ururoa’s amendments address the wider picture through the elimination of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, developing a sinking lid for off-licences and more restrictive trading hours.
Recent campaigning uses the concept of ‘legend’ to inspire us to take action against alcohol abuse. We can all be a legend in our lifetime – its about protecting whānau from harm and investing in our future.
Tariana Turia is Associate Health Minister and co-leader of the Maori Party