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Responsible drinking advocates say that while new research showing Kiwi teens drinking less is promising, more needs to be done to address binge drinking in young people.

A nationwide study of 2000 people, commissioned by The Tomorrow Project, an alcohol industry-funded organisation that manages the Cheers brand, supports the latest University of Otago research showing New Zealand young people drinking less frequently.

The research also shows that more than half (53%) of 18-24-year-olds surveyed said they binge drink (have more than five drinks per session) even though the frequency of drinking for this group has reduced to no more than monthly.

Cheers spokesman Matt Claridge says while these are promising results, more needs to be done to ensure New Zealand’s youth learn the dangers of binge drinking.

“It’s fantastic to see Kiwi young people drinking less often, but every time a young person drinks to excess, it can cause damage and put them at real risk of harm. Our research showed the more people drank, the more likely they were to indulge in other risky behaviours, such as having unprotected sex with a stranger or getting into a car with someone who is drink driving.

“As part of our behaviour change strategy, the Smashed Project was introduced to New Zealand secondary schools in partnership with the Life Education Trust last year. An internationally acclaimed theatre-based education programme, Smashed Project aims to equip year 9 students with the skills they need to counter peer pressure to drink alcohol.”

Last year Smashed Project reached more than 20,000 students across 94 schools. The programme delivers important messages about delaying drinking. It features a play about a group of young friends who learn first-hand the risks of drinking, followed by an interactive workshop session where pupils are invited to probe the cast on issues brought up during the play.

After taking part in the programme last year, 91% of teenagers surveyed said they’d wait until 18 to try alcohol.

“We know from our own research that the younger people are when they begin drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to develop poor drinking behaviours later in life and this is a pattern that we are looking to change,” Mr Claridge says.

“Smashed Project gives teenagers a safe space to talk about peer pressure and underage drinking. Because it tells someone else’s story – not their own – it allows the students to actively rehearse situations and engage in the issues raised as a group. This includes looking at other options or choices for the characters that may lead to better outcomes.”