Should New Zealand double its tax on booze?

The AM Show 16/08/2018

A visiting economist and policy expert says New Zealand needs to double the excise tax on alcohol to help curb problem drinking.

Dr John Marsden is in the country to speak at the annual Alcohol Action conference and said people who don't drink dangerously are paying the cost of problem drinking.

"The top twenty percent of drinkers, who are drinking well in excess of medical guidelines, account for 75 percent or thereabouts of total sales," he told The AM Show.

Dr Marsden said the best solution would be to approach alcohol similarly to smoking and push up the excise tax and make it more expensive.

"You [could] probably double the tax, in the case of tobacco what we've done... is push the taxed component up to more than half of the total retail price, well it would be sensible to do the same with alcohol," he said.

His aim isn't to stop people drinking full stop, but rather cut down on the amount being drank in one session.

"Most of us can get away with thinking that four is not too bad, or two, so it's not a question of stopping drinking altogether, but it's taking that edge off, taking those heavy sessions off," he said.

Industry lobby group the Alcohol Beverages Council has in the past said it does not believe raising the price of alcohol would change much.

An economist says alcohol should be taxed like cigarettes.

"They reduce the alcohol consumption of those of us that drink reasonably, and the people who have a problem with drinking actually carry on. They find other ways to source their alcohol," executive director Nick Leggett told The AM Show in March.

The Government has not yet signalled whether the tax will be raised and health minister David Clark told Radio New Zealand in May it had not considered enforcing minimum alcohol pricing.

Dr Marsden believes alcohol law changes aren't happening due to the alcohol industry pushing the message that most people are drinking acceptably.

But to him the number who are regularly drinking excessively is higher than it should be.

"What you hear is 'we can't do anything, it's only a few people who are drinking to excess,'" he said.

"Well the 'few people' actually number 15 to 20 percent of the adult population."

Watch the full interview with Dr John Marsden above. 

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