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24 Hour Licensing?

New Zealand experiences of later hours of trading

New Zealand's hours of closing are now at the liberal end of the international continuum of comparable states and countries.  In most, standard hours continue to be set by law, with extensions granted by the licensing authority (Hill 1997).

When New Zealand’s licensing hours were changed to 10 o’clock in October 1967, there was little evident impact on traffic injury rates.  No firm conclusions should be drawn from this, since new blood alcohol legislation was introduced shortly afterwards, and the economic downturn is generally dated from that year (Smith 1988a).  (Current analyses are demonstrating the effect of income and the economy on drinking patterns).

Evidence from local statutory officers

Interviews on the operation of the present Act showed the importance of standard closing times in local communities.  Police and inspectors reported that, when local outlets close at different times, the outlet open latest attracts ‘migrating drinkers’.  They said that ‘migrating’ customers who wish to keep drinking are often already intoxicated, contributing to street disorder and other incidents disrupting communities; the last licensee could ‘inherit’ behaviour attributable to drinking at an earlier venue (Hill & Stewart 1996).

Police reported that they were seeing high levels of intoxication with later closing times; although people were going out later, some were drinking heavily for a longer period.  In the city centres with very late opening and 24 hour licensing, police reported intercepting drunk drivers on the road at 7 am and 8 am, when others were going to work and school (Hill & Stewart 1996).

Police reported that behaviour requiring police attention was generally associated with the late-closing or last open premises in the area.  District Licensing Agencies reported that their most effective method of resolving problems in or associated with licensed premises is to request a cut-back in hours of trading (Hill & Stewart 1996).  That is, changes in hours have been demonstrated to have significant local impacts. 

Supermarket beer attractive to young binge drinkers

Take-away alcohol outlets and on-licensed premises are logically of equal concern in regard to local effects of late trading.  Of all alcohol consumed, 60% is take-away alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences (Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996).  However, the customers of late opening off-licensed premises continue to ‘migrate’ - on foot or in cars.  On weekends bottles and containers are to be seen in the vicinity of many off-licensed outlets, indicating that some purchases are being drunk on the street or in cars.

Beer, which is now on sale at supermarkets, is the drink of choice for heavy drinking young males.  Analysis of drinking patterns in national and regional surveys shows that many drinkers in their teens and early twenties, particularly males, are drinking hazardous amounts.  Young people experience disproportionate harm from their drinking, compared to older drinkers consuming similar amounts (Field & Casswell 1999; Wyllie, Millard & Zhang 1996).  Land Transport Safety Authority figures show that drink driving offences continue to be disproportionately represented by young and underage males.

Upward trends in amounts drunk per occasion by 14-19 years have been shown by successive annual surveys in Auckland (Casswell 1999; Wyllie, Zhang & Casswell 1998).  This binge drinking was most likely to occur in late-opening nightclubs, or in other people’s homes - that is, take-away alcohol drunk in party situations.  Auckland police are increasingly being called out to control parties of teenagers drinking take-away alcohol, in suburban homes and in public places.

The 1995 national drinking survey showed that supermarkets were the outlet type where young drinkers encountered fewest refusals to purchase attempts.  At that time supermarkets sold only the alcoholic beverage least favoured by young heavy drinkers.  The Kapiti Coast study conducted by Cristina van Dam shows that this lack of age verification or refusal continues today.

Police have reported that off-licensed outlets are more difficult to monitor for underage sales than on-license premises; alcohol transactions are fast and minors may be legally on the premises to purchase soft drinks or snacks.  Of 948 underage infringement notices between 1 December and 24 February, 884 were given out in public places to minors with take-away alcohol (Gabites 2000).

‘Reasonable control’ of hours are consistent with alcohol health policy

For the above reasons, the 24 hour availability of take-away alcohol supplies from the applicants are a concern for public health. 

As the last opening alcohol outlets in either the Kapiti or Petone area, the above research and experiences show they will attract and contribute to increased late night alcohol related problems in the local area.

It is already clear that other supermarkets and off-licensees will apply for similar hours of trading, although the research suggests long term aggregate alcohol sales will not be increased by all night shopping.

It will disrupt the precedents and standards by which The Liquor Licensing Authority has established ‘a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor’ across the rest of the country.

The ‘reasonable control’ of current ‘rule of thumb’ trading hours for different types of outlet and in different areas have resulted from public hearings of the Liquor Licensing Authority and local policies on trading hours in many localities.  These have been established as a result of community concern and local democratic processes, despite the continuing ‘gap’ between the licensing and local planning systems and dissatisfactions with the public objection processes (Hill 1998ab). 

The contribution that ‘reasonable control’ over the hours of trading can make to the reduction of alcohol related harm and its impact on communities is in line with the Ministry of Health’s National Alcohol Policy, which strongly emphasises the role of legislation, regulation, enforcement and community settings (MOH 1996).

The power to set hours of trading is a key control mechanism granted by Parliament to the Liquor Licensing Authority with the above objective.  The research evidence provided here supports the continuation of the Liquor Licensing Authority’s current policies on trading hours for both off- and on-licensed premises through a Statement to the District Licensing Agencies that will be granting unopposed applications from 1 April 2000.

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