Alcohol is no ordinary commodity - It's official!

Wednesday December 21, 2016

​​The Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Alistair Humphrey, has triumphed in a landmark case in the Court of Appeal, which means supermarkets can only display alcohol in separate designated areas, away from checkouts and entrances. 

It follows Dr Humphrey's successful appeal at the High Court last November which overturned a decision by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority permitting Bishopdale New World supermarket to display alcohol at the end of supermarket aisles, reversing an earlier decision by the Christchurch District Licensing Committee.

Foodstuffs appealed the High Court decision in the Court of Appeal, but the Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Gendall's earlier decision and dismissed Foodstuff's' argument.  Foodstuffs and their subsidiaries have chosen not to take the case any further.

Dr Humphrey says it's been a "David versus Goliath win", which he's incredibly proud of and very grateful for the support he's received from the Canterbury District Health Board, Medical Officers of Health and public health units around the country in standing up for what is right when it comes to reducing alcohol related harm.

"This decision means that we will be able to choose when and where we buy our alcohol, instead of having it in our faces whenever we are doing our grocery shopping,"  Dr Humphrey says.

"Alcohol is often an impulse purchase, like confectionery, so where it is placed in the supermarket can make a huge difference to sales."

Placement of alcohol in a store can affect its sales by as much as 20 percent or more.

"It is remarkable to think that more than a fifth of alcohol bought in supermarkets would not have been bought if the shopper had not noticed it," he says.

"The Court of Appeal's ruling sets a legal precedent – supermarkets in New Zealand will need to consider the design of their stores carefully before applying for off licences."

The interpretation of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act by the High Court, and accepted by the Court of Appeal is that not only should alcohol be kept away from entrances and the checkouts, but also further reduce exposure to as far as is reasonably practicable. 

For example, obvious signage visible from all areas of the store is not reducing shoppers' exposure, nor is end of aisle displays and it is reasonably practicable for a store to remove these, or not have them in the first place.

The cost of alcohol harm in New Zealand is more than $5 billion a year, but our revenue from excise tax is a little over $1billion [1]. It seems unfair that the ordinary New Zealand tax payer should subsidise the alcohol industry.

Dr Humphrey has commended the design of some new supermarkets, which are being built in a way that is helping to reduce alcohol exposure.

"It's really pleasing to see that most of the new supermarkets being built are taking their responsibilities seriously and building completely separate areas for selling alcohol. This ruling will help make this kind of separation the norm in New Zealand, as it already is in other countries" Dr Humphrey says.

ENDS

[1] Slack A, Nana G, Webster M, Stokes F, Wu, J. 2009. Costs of harmful alcohol and other drug use. Final Report to the Ministry of Health and ACC. (BERL report)

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2016
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