Monday 25 February 2013

A real alcohol crisis [warning: may not actually contain crisis]

I'd suggested last year that there's no alcohol crisis in New Zealand.

A lot of the public health crowd disagreed with me rather vehemently, even suggesting that my position was based on that I'd done one bit of work funded by the alcohol industry.

Well, it turns out that there could be a crisis. Here are the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand:
The volume of alcoholic beverage available for consumption in New Zealand fell 3.3 percent in 2012, Statistics New Zealand said today. The decrease was due to a fall in the volume of beer, down 20 million litres. This fall was partly offset by a 4.3 million litre rise in the volume of wine.
“Although the volume of alcoholic beverages available was down more than 3.0 percent, the amount of pure alcohol fell only 0.6 percent,” industry and labour statistics manager Louise Holmes-Oliver said. “This was due to change in the types of beverages available."
An increase in the volume of higher-alcohol beverages such as wine, spirits, and spirit-based drinks accounts for the smaller fall in pure alcohol available. The volume of high-alcohol beer (over 5.0 percent) also increased. In contrast, all other beer categories available for consumption have decreased.
The volume of pure alcohol available for consumption per person aged 15 years and over fell 1.7 percent, to 9.3 litres in 2012. This is equivalent to an average of 2.0 standard drinks daily per person (aged 15 years and over).
Alcohol statistics are a measure of how much alcohol is available for consumption, rather than actual consumption.
The Radio NZ report is slightly inaccurate: we didn't have a 15 million litre drop in alcohol production; we had a 15 million litre drop in the volume of alcoholic beverage available for consumption. New Zealand produces a lot of wine for export and imports a lot of spirits: volume available for consumption accounts for that.

A 1.7% drop in pure alcohol available for consumption may be a crisis though, depending on how sensitive a trigger you have for such things. I'm very likely engaging in a bit of hyperbole in calling a 1.7% per capita drop a crisis. But if we have a bit of mean reversion next year, any guesses whether a 1.5% increase would be called a crisis?

Here's the time path. Some crisis.

The anti-alcohol brigade are shifting their efforts to local politics since the alcohol reform bill widened scope for local government control of alcohol use. When your local busybody starts lobbying for earlier closing times, fewer bars, fewer off-licence agents, restrictions on alcohol in supermarkets, or broader areas where open liquor is banned, and present data that pick 1998 as starting point to get a seemingly neutral "over the last 15 years", please do point your Council to the Stats NZ series.


  1. My neighbours are drinking far too much alcohol Eric, and they play Pink Floyd, they play Pink Floyd very loud and late, like 11 pm, and also Fleetwood Mac, really old stuff boring
    . So I complained to the Council, they said we can not do anything about alcohol consumption and loud music. So I went over the the neighbour and i said turn the music down dude, and he punched me hard in the throat, ,.. so i went home

  2. Ah, you took the wrong lesson from Coase. If he had the right to make noise, then you needed to offer some kind of gift or payment to encourage his stopping.