The latest ruling against the promotion of a boozy day out has alcohol watchdogs frustrated.
Flouting bans on alcohol advertising around schools, Beers at the Basin placed 26 billboards on the fence around the Wellington cricket ground, facing the entrances to Wellington College and St Mark’s School and just down the road from Wellington East Girls’ College. “Given other advertising for alcohol appears in the immediate vicinity,” the beer festival’s organisers said, “the advertisement is in keeping with the surrounding environment.”
The Advertising Standards Authority was unimpressed, upholding a complaint against the billboards and saying they did not meet the high standard of social responsibility required of alcohol advertising.
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This is the problem, says Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson. The Advertising Standards Authority has no power to impose any penalty beyond the removal of the advert – which is usually long gone anyway, by the team the Authority issues its ruling. And it’s only “very rarely” that bars, restaurants or events organisers are convicted of an offence under s237 of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, which prohibits irresponsible promotion.
“The full powers of this section are rarely used – it is more common that the offending advertising is asked to be removed or amended. This leaves the onus on the public and harm reduction agencies to be vigilant around promotions of excessive drinking,” she said.
Inspector Hamish Milne is manager of alcohol harm prevention for NZ Police. He said they were increasingly concerned about the promotion of alcohol around big events like Crate Day and Orientation Week at the universities, as well as sports-associated events.
“There are so many problems with how alcohol is promoted and marketed around the country as part of our lifestyle. Just look at O-Week, encouraging extensive drinking. Or the crash pads on all the rugby posts, promoting Tui or Speights, and the five-year-olds learning to play on those fields and exposed to it.”
“It’s not just about what the law says – it’s about a culture of drinking,” Milne said. “We need to address our culture of drinking and harm.”
“I consider it would be beneficial to review the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act … I want to ensure alcohol regulation in New Zealand is fit for purpose and operates effectively.”
Kris Faafoi, justice minister
Police have taken one Havelock North liquor store to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, seeking to have its off-licence and the manager’s licence suspended. Thirsty Liquor was overwhelmed by customers on Crate Day, the owner said, and admitted selling a dozen Wild Moose whisky and dry RTDs to two teenage boys in a controlled Police sting.
“It was Crate Day and the premises was unexpectedly busy,” protested company director Harsh Malhotra.
But Judge Kevin Kelly, the Authority’s chair, wasn’t interested in excuses. “It is precisely when the premises are expected to be busy that licensees and managers need to be vigilant,” he said, and suspended the liquor store’s off-licence and Malhotra’s manager’s certificate.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi told Newsroom that he believed it would be beneficial to review the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, and he was assessing the ability to do that within what was already a fairly full work programme in the Justice portfolio.
The timing and scope of any review would be subject to Cabinet consideration and approval, he said.
“I note that there are a number of restrictions on irresponsible alcohol promotions and activities, and where those restrictions are breached licensees are liable for a fine of up to $10,000 and/or the suspension of their licence for up to seven days,” Faafoi observed.
He pointed also to the new Alcohol Advertising and Promotion voluntary code, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, which will take effect for new advertisements from April and for all other advertisements from July. “I will be interested to see what effect the new code has,” he said. “I want to ensure alcohol regulation in New Zealand is fit for purpose and operates effectively.”
“Look at any of the comments on liquor outlet social media advertising and it is clear that a drinker’s intention is consume the crate on their own.”
– Dr Nicki Jackson, Alcohol Healthwatch
Dr Jackson said she was continually astounded by Advertising Standards Authority decisions like that against the Beers at the Basin organisers, saying they tacitly condoned large numbers of children being exposed to alcohol advertising. “Children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol advertising, yet the Advertising Standards Authority appears to believe that there is some magical threshold that means harming only a minority of children is okay.
“Take sponsorship for example – the new code allows alcohol sponsorship agreements for teams and events where the audience is at least 80 percent adults. Rugby games may have an audience of over one million – the ASA Code is effectively saying that it is acceptable to expose alcohol advertising (promoted by heroes of the young) to hundreds of thousands of kids. It’s ridiculous and our kids deserve better.”
Crate Day was another case in point, she said, showing how ineffectual New Zealand’s laws were in curbing the promotion of excessive drinking. “This event has almost become a rite of passage for young people for the past 12 years and has caused significant strain on our hospital and Police services,” she said.
“Each December we see liquor outlets creating one-off crates to address the demand and any advertising of the event bypasses an offence if it encourages the ‘sharing’ of a crate of almost 30 standard drinks. Look at any of the comments on liquor outlet social media advertising and it is clear that a drinker’s intention is consume the crate on their own.
“We don’t need to wait to see what effect the new voluntary advertising code will have – we already know the system is broken. We have over a decade of Government-commissioned reports recommending an end to industry self-regulation. No voluntary code of practice will ever work to reduce the amount of ads we are exposed to, nor will it deal to the way that the industry targets us based on our emotions, vulnerabilities, preferences, behaviour and location.”
“New Zealanders continue to be bombarded with advertisements, many of which promote excessive drinking. It is so normalised that we stop recognising it. Or even see it as harmless fun, when it’s not. Especially in relation to our poor mental health stats. Stronger laws, akin to our laws for tobacco and vaping advertising, are required to change the acceptability of excessive promotion of our most harmful drug.”