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Of the 40 recommendations in the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report, the Government has ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed in principle’ to the majority.

However, to the dismay of many, the recommendations that relate to taking strong action on alcohol were categorised as needing ‘further consideration’.

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson is among those alarmed that ‘further consideration’ is needed to reduce the impact of alcohol use on mental health and addiction.

“We are perplexed with regards to the Government’s response to the Inquiry’s recommendations relating to alcohol. It is not aligned with the serious concerns communities expressed during the nation-wide consultation. The Inquiry’s recommendation was simple and well-considered – we absolutely need to take a stricter regulatory approach to the sale and supply of alcohol.

“Further consideration from Government on how best to reduce the harm from alcohol is superfluous – we needn’t unnecessarily replicate the comprehensive work done 5-10 years ago by the Law Commission, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship.”

Jackson points to three Government-commissioned reports that recommend increasing alcohol prices, reducing availability and restricting alcohol marketing and sponsorship.

“Alcohol is already the second strongest risk factor for suicide and plays a major role in family violence and homicide. We can turn down the tap of addiction in our country by addressing alcohol use in adolescence. This means having strong policies in place to protect New Zealanders.”

Professor Doug Sellman, Professor of Psychiatry & Addiction Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch agrees the Government needs to take a stronger approach to alcohol.

“Alcohol is the drug that is doing the most damage to New Zealanders’ well-being by far; the cost of which has been recently estimated at $7.85 billion per year. Alcohol law reform is one of the most obvious and most effective single ways of improving New Zealanders’ well-being.

“Raising the excise tax on alcohol is the easiest and most effective evidence-based measures a government can undertake to reduce alcohol-related problems; and has been shown to be supported by a majority of New Zealanders.

“To not act at this time with robust alcohol law reform, in particular substantially raising the excise tax on alcohol, risks reducing this Wellbeing Budget to a set of platitudes.

“But even more concerning is that because rationality, international evidence, formal recommendations and majority public support is being ignored, the power of alcohol industry lobbying of our government becomes apparent. This power to subvert alcohol law reform risks making a mockery of democracy and continues to undermine the reduction of alcohol-related misery and suffering in favour of the greed of powerful vested interests.”

Dr Fiona Hutton, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington takes a similar view.

“The Government also seems to be stubbornly wedded to the idea of addressing alcohol and other drug use through the criminal justice system with an emphasis in this ‘wellbeing’ budget on drug testing and detection anklets.

“Using these methods does not support wellbeing and I urge the Government to reduce its use of drug testing, in particular, which often leads to ‘drug switching’, and the use of more harmful substances such as synthetic cannabinoids that cannot be detected in drug tests.”

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