High Court ruling will help reduce alcohol harm

Wednesday November 11, 2015

​​​Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey is welcoming a High Court ruling as a landmark case that will help reduce alcohol harm nationally.

Dr Humphrey had appealed a decision by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, which had permitted South City New World and Bishopdale New World supermarkets to display alcohol at the end of supermarket aisles, reversing an earlier decision by the Christchurch District Licensing Committee.

The Christchurch District Licensing Committee had initially restricted the alcohol display area at Bishopdale New World Supermarket after considering submissions from the Police, the Medical Officer of Health and the District Licensing Inspector.

Dr Humphrey says the ruling makes it clear that under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, supermarkets and grocery stores must restrict the display of alcohol to a single area helping achieve the purpose of the Act, which is to minimise harm caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

"The decision recognises the harm exposure to alcohol causes our community. Alcohol does cause harm, and the Act is there not to ban it, but to help minimise the harm it causes," he says.

"Justice Gendall's careful and detailed decision acknowledges this and sets a legal precedent which supermarkets and grocery stores in New Zealand will need to consider closely before applying for off licences."

Dr Humphrey says the sales of supermarket products are boosted by measures such as shelf positioning and end-of-aisle displays, and the impact of such measures on impulse purchases like alcohol are even more pronounced. 

"The more people are exposed to alcohol, the more they buy; the more they buy, the more they consume; the more they consume the greater the harm.

"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 some 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," Dr Humphrey says.

Read the ruling from the High Court on alcohol displays in Christchurch supermarkets.

[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: 12 November 2015
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