Tai Rāwhiti tops hazardous drinking list

By Contributor

Gisborne District Council has showed its support for Chlöe Swarbrick's Alcohol Amendment Bill which seeks to reduce alcohol advertising in sports. Photo: Supplied / Gisborne Herald

By Local democracy reporter Matthew Rosenberg

Tai Rāwhiti has the highest hazardous drinking rate in the country, according to a report presented to Gisborne District Council.

The report, prepared by Alcohol Healthwatch in support of Chlöe Swarbrick's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill, showed 44.9 percent of drinkers in Tai Rāwhiti were considered hazardous compared to the national average of 27.1 percent.

Nearly 34 percent of Tai Rāwhiti's entire adult population reported hazardous drinking.

But the numbers haven't come as a surprise to Health New Zealand district director Jim Green, who says one of the main contributing factors is a high level of deprivation within the region.

"It has been shown that living in neighbourhoods of high socioeconomic deprivation is associated with a higher risk of harmful alcohol consumption.

"Increased societal stress increases alcohol consumption."

Hauora Tairāwhiti (the local health board) has supported changes that reduce alcohol-related harm such as increasing the minimum legal purchase age to 20, increasing tax on alcohol, and reducing alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, Green said.

Last week, Gisborne councillors showed support for some of those measures by backing the Green Party bill, which seeks to not only wind down alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sports, but also reform the appeals process relating to local alcohol policies.

Alcohol Healthwatch presented data to the council in early June as part of a nationwide push to drum up support from local governing bodies, who they hope will in turn approach local MPs.

On Thursday, the council voted to support the bill, with councillor Debbie Gregory saying no one could deny the destruction alcohol caused in society.

"Everyone pays for it in the end, whether it's through the product or the clean-up, through taxes.

"I would urge the government to strongly support it. I'm really pleased the council has placed it on the agenda, because it's really important."

Tony Robinson said he had worked as a "front line" lawyer for 22 years and had seen first-hand the damage alcohol caused.

For 95 percent of his criminal clients, alcohol was the main addiction which drove their offending, he said.

"This report clearly stipulates that Tai Rāwhiti is disproportionately affected by alcohol substance and abuse. And you can guarantee within that demographic Māori are statistically disproportionately affected.

"We talk about our responsibility to our Ttreaty partners ... this is one way we can say we support positive steps forward."

Mayor Rehette Stoltz also expressed support for the bill, alongside councillor Larry Foster, but the latter shared concern sports clubs would miss out on vital funding.

Bill Burdett and Terry Sheldrake both chose not to support the bill, fearing it would negatively impact on sports teams who relied on money from alcohol sponsorship and advertising.

According to the council report, $61 million was spent on alcohol advertising in New Zealand in 2018.

In 2020, the national cost of alcohol harm was estimated at $7.85 billion including justice, health and welfare costs.

Of those who sought addiction support, 59 percent listed alcohol as their primary substance of abuse.

Alcohol Healthwatch pulled from 2021 Ministry of Health data for the comparison of Tai rāwhiti's district health board against other centres. It defined hazardous drinking as the regular consumption of alcohol likely to increase mental and physical health harm.

Gisborne District Council staff recommended councillors support the bill because it aligned with the organisation's strategic direction by improving the health and wellbeing of people in Tai Rāwhiti.

In voting to support the bill, the council joined a growing list of others around the country including Auckland City Council, Christchurch City Council, Whanganui District Council, Hauraki District Council and Hamilton City Council.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air