Drinking: what's age got to do with it?

There are strong elements of class and age rage entering the debate over our liquor laws, with the comments of that exemplar of fine taste and manners Sir Geoffrey Palmer leading the way.

He wandered through Courtney Place one night and witnessed scenes that "no civilized society can relish."

All that proves is that he has led a very sheltered life. Did he never go to a Labour Party booze up when he was an MP back in the 1980s? Those were scenes that no person could relish. (Not that the Nats were much better in those days).

What makes Courtney Place objectionable in the eyes of patricians like Palmer is that people are doing their boozing in public, enjoying themselves, and part of that enjoyment is behaving in an unrestrained and even outrageous manner.

People enjoying themselves is actually what he is objecting to, and like most puritans he has worked out that he cannot stop people drinking. So he resorts to the puritan's favourite tactic: make it more expensive, more difficult, and more troublesome for both the drinker and the supplier of drinks. 

The Law Commission's bundle of extra restrictions - fewer outlets, higher prices, shorter hours, and more restrictions and controls - are about making it harder to drink.

It won't affect the professional classes, who do their boozing at home, at resorts and restaurants, where they can get trollyed out of sight of ordinary folks.  What isn't seen isn't offensive, apparently.

Of course the liquor trade does not have a dark side. Some people indulge to excess from time to time, and some people are excessive far too often, and this damages them, their friends and family. And there is also some unwelcome behaviors in and around Courtney Place in the early mornings: people vomiting in doorways, urinating in the alleys and placing themselves in danger.

I'd be in favour of rising the drinking age if I felt that would lead to any change in behavior. But where's the evidence?

Where do people under the age of 18 get their booze? The two principal sources are their older brothers and sisters who purchase it legally and pass it on, and secondly from their parents. Perhaps they think that learning how to handle alcohol at an early age is a good idea. Perhaps they think this may control the amount young people drink. Perhaps they think that drinking in a  controlled environment like the family home will teach young people respect and moderation.

Perhaps it works. My point is that while others are happy to supply liquor to underage teenagers, raising the licensing age is pointless. In fact the age restriction is pretty meaningless now. I first worked in a bar in Christchurch in the 1970s. The licensing age then was 21. I shouted for my workmates when I quit that job to go to university. It was my 18th birthday.  The drinking age was a worthless restriction then, and it still is now.