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Source: Alcohol Healthwatch

Public health experts and social service and addiction services are alarmed at data released today from Statistics New Zealand showing rapid, substantial increases in the amount of alcohol on the shelves in the second half of 2020. This indicator represents the amount of alcohol excise paid by alcohol companies and is a proxy measure for the population’s drinking.
Dr Nicki Jackson, Executive Director of Alcohol Healthwatch, and Lt Colonel Lynette Hutson, director of Salvation Army Addiction, Supported Accommodation and Reintegration Services (ASARS), say this increase is concerning for families already under pressure from job loss and uncertainty created by the COVID pandemic.
The data released today shows a small spike in alcohol available immediately prior to Level 4 lockdown, lower levels (of spirits and RTDs) during lockdown, followed by rapid, substantial increases in the third and fourth quarter of last year.
Most striking were the large increases in high-strength spirits as well as RTDs following the lockdown. New Zealanders are increasingly becoming spirits drinkers, with spirits increasing from 23% of our alcohol intake in 2004 rising to 32% in 2020.
“After lockdown, we hit the spirits bottle harder than ever before. And the increase can’t be totally attributable to our current inability to purchase duty-free alcohol. This is happening at a time when the Government has indicated that they want to take serious action to improve our mental health and protect New Zealanders from uncertainty caused by COVID.” says Jackson.
Salvation Army Addiction, Supported Accommodation and Reintegration Services (ASARS) director Lt Colonel Lynette Hutson says the rise in alcohol availability is shocking, but not surprising.
“People have been under enormous stress over the past year. A lot have turned to alcohol as a way of coping, or to numb their feelings. Unfortunately, this can lead to problematic drinking and addiction in some cases”, says Hutson.
Lt Col Hutson says the Army has been expecting to see evidence of increased alcohol consumption.
“People have been laughing about ‘wine o’clock’ getting earlier and earlier since the pandemic. Unfortunately, this often leads to a pattern of drinking which has very real consequences on both mental and physical health, for those drinking more. A harmful impact on families will be a direct flow on from this increase in consumption. We’re very concerned that this pattern of increased alcohol consumption will become entrenched”, says Hutson.
With the growth in spirits over the year (that are taxed at a higher rate than beer and wine), alcohol excise revenue in 2020 was $119 million higher than in 2019.
“This windfall for the Government coffers likely came at the expense of increased harm in our communities. It is only right that this extra revenue is recycled and directed to reduce alcohol harm in the communities that need it the most”, says Jackson.
“We know that alcohol-related health inequities have already widened during the pandemic. Urgent implementation of evidence-based alcohol policies (such as increasing price, reducing availability and restricting advertising) are pro-equity and will improve our wellbeing for years to come”, ends Jackson.
Key points
Alcohol excise tax revenue in 2019 was $1.074 billion. This increased to $1.193 billion in 2020.
In 2019/20, 81.5% of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over consumed alcohol in the past year.
In 2019/20, one in four New Zealand drinkers (25.7%) had a hazardous drinking pattern. This equates to 838,000 adults aged 15 years and over. Among 18-24 year-old drinkers, 43% of males and 33% of females reported a hazardous drinking pattern.
During Level 4 lockdown in April 2020, 19% of past-month drinkers increased their consumption when compared to pre-lockdown. This reduced to 14% drinking more at Level 1 in June 2020, when compared to pre-lockdown.
During Level 4 lockdown in April 2020, 34% of past-month drinkers reduced their consumption when compared to pre-lockdown. This declined to 22% drinking less at Level 1 in June 2020, when compared to pre-lockdown.