Friday, 22 June 2018

Alcohol healthwatch - again

"One-third of NZ's hazardous drinkers are now aged 35-54," says Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson.

"For the older groups, hazardous drinking is now higher than it was back in 2006/07. It feels like we have a new 'peak booze' among parts of our population."

The Ministry of Health estimates that over 780,000 adults are hazardous drinkers. Statistics NZ figures show the drinking habits for more than a third of people aged 18-24 could be potentially hazardous - regularly consuming six more drinks in a single session.

Dr Jackson warns there's been an increase in hazardous drinking every year since 2011, and says it's increased by more than 50 percent among those aged 45 to 64 years.

As well as this, hazardous drinking in the 66-74-year age group more than doubled from 2011/12 to 2015/16.

"Our older drinkers are some of the heaviest drinkers in the world," she says.
Let's go back to the stats.

The 2015/16 New Zealand Health Survey does have an increased prevalence of harmful drinking (AUDIT score 8 or higher) for total population in each year from 2011/12 through 2015/16. But that came after a substantial drop from 2006/07. So the 2015/16 figure is now a bit higher than it was in 06/07. The rise from 11/12 to 15/16 is statistically significant, but there is no significant difference between 05/06 and 11/12.

While 32.6% of those aged 18-24 were considered hazardous drinkers by that standard in 2015/16, 43.2% were considered hazardous drinkers in 2006/07. It's been flat on "about a third" since 2011/12. The drop from 06/07 to present is significant; there's been no significant change though since 2011/12.

There were statistically and real-world significant drops in the prevalence of hazardous drinking from 06/07 to 15/16 for cohorts under the age of 24. Prevalence among 15-17 year olds roughly halved (19.5% to 11.5%); among those aged 18-24, it dropped by about a quarter (43.2% to 32.6%).

There was no statistically significant change over the period for those aged 25-34 (though higher now than before, with a large rise from 14/15 to 15/16), or for the 75+ cohort (which dropped from 3.6% to 2.9%).

There were statistically significant increases in prevalence from 06/07 through 15/16 for 35-44 year olds (16.6% to 22.3%), for 45-54 year olds (12.2% to 18.5%), and for 65-74 year olds (7.3% to 10%).

So if you want to tell a story about big increases in rates, you can pull out the 06/07 data and start from 11/12, which seems the bottom of a trough, or ignore what's been happening for younger cohorts, or both. The Ministry of Health data only goes back to 06/07, but overall per capita consumption data has a massive drop from 1987 to 1997, a mild rise through 2010, then a fall through present. If overall hazardous drinking is up 2011/12 through 2014/15 despite a drop in per capita consumption, then maybe whatever the government's doing on alcohol policy is doing more to deter moderate drinkers than it is doing to affect heavier drinkers.

It's also worth looking at the other measures in that survey.

MoH tallies the proportion of people consuming 6+ drinks on one occasion at least monthly. That figure is statistically significantly down overall from 06/07 through 15/16 (22.5% to 19.3%), massively down among 15-17 year olds (25% to 9.4%), and also down for 25-34 year olds (30.7% to 26.3%).

The only statistically significant change for any other subgroups were an increase among Maori women from 2011/12 through 2015/16 (23.4 to 27.8% but as the 2006/07 proportion was 28.0%, there was no change over the longer period), and smallish drops among European men and Europeans overall.

If you flip to the "Consumption of 6+ drinks on one occasion at least weekly" figure, you get a significant drop overall, a significant drop among men, and significant drops in the under-24 age cohorts.

It's also worth checking the most recent figures.

Again, the new ones aren't commensurable with the older ones, so we only have the change from 15/16 to 16/17. The proportion of hazardous drinkers dropped from 20.8% to 19.5% in the total population, and from 26.2% to 24.7% among past year drinkers. Heavy episodic drinking at least monthly is up by fractions of a percent, but heavy episodic drinking at least weekly is down fractions of a percent. None of those changes are worth noticing, but the drop in the most recent year contrasts with Alcohol Healthwatch's "there's been an increase in hazardous drinking every year since 2011".

Anyway, your regular health warning about relying on Alcohol Healthwatch's stats applies. It's usually worth going back and checking the original data yourself to see what's been left out.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Morning roundup

The survivors in the browser tabs, each of which likely deserves its own post.
  • The mess at Tolaga Bay seems one where you should get the right solution by applying liability. It's impossible for you or I to tell how much value the forestry companies get from leaving slash on hillsides - it can be important for soil regeneration. And it's impossible for you or I to tell how much it would cost them to avoid landslips and mess during storms. But if companies are liable for damages caused, then they'll have incentive to weigh that all up properly. 

  • Drunk people are better at creative problem solving. Well, tipsy people (just under .08). Harvard Business Review only just wrote this up, but it looks like the underlying research by Jarosz, Colflesh and Wiley is from 2012. Or at least I think that's the underlying research. HBR doesn't link it and doesn't mention either the name, year, or journal of the study. Usual skepticism about small-n psych experiments should apply, but it does accord with fairly common experience (drink while writing, edit sober), and with a later similar study

  • Colby Cosh on the history and robustness of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

  • The Taxpayers Union' finds a continued, and growing, public sector wage premium. The correct first response to this kind of finding is that the public sector will be more likely to draw a different skill mix than the private sector. What you really then want isn't the difference between average pay in the private sector and average pay in the public sector, but rather whether workers of similar characteristics enjoy different earnings in the private or public sector. On that one, the most recent New Zealand work I know about is John Gibson's 2009 piece showing a rising public sector pay premium from 2003-2007, adjusting for everything then observable about workers.

    From Gibson's abstract:
    This note reports propensity score matching estimates of the public sector pay premium in New Zealand for each year from 2003 until 2007. Comparing with observably similar private sector workers shows that public sector workers have received a pay premium that has grown in each year, from almost zero in 2003 to 22% in 2007. Unless there have been unmeasured changes in worker qualities or in the attributes of public sector jobs that give rise to compensating pay differentials, this rising public sector pay premium is most plausibly attributed to an increase in non-competitive rents. 
    Remember too that an employee's total compensation bundle isn't just pay - it's also conditions and job security. If public sector employment is, on average, viewed as having more security and less onerous conditions than private sector employment, we should not expect a positive wage gap. Perhaps there are other conditions in public sector employment that require paying a premium to draw in suitable staff.

  • The government's to be subsidising firms who take current beneficiaries as new apprentices. I expect wage subsidies are an appropriate solution here. I note that countries like Switzerland that have robust employer-provided training schemes don't constrain firms with a minimum wage - young trainees start on very low wages and quickly move up to wages closer to those of skilled workers as they develop those skills. If you ban firms from starting apprentices on wages that reflect productivity, you'll have to subsidise firms taking on apprentices. In this case, I expect that the subsidy would also help ensure meeting a participation constraint on the employee side. 

  • Katherine Rich is awesome. I don't know how many times I've seen the public health brigade shout about how industry should be denied a place at the table and should never be consulted about anything, and that the loudness of industry screams is a proxy for the benefits of a policy. Well, know what happens when you shut out industry? You wind up making stupid mistakes that you could have found out about earlier if you'd only bothered asking people who know more than you do. So instead of a referee report allowing you to fix errors before publication, you get an embarrassing letter in the journal your article was published in from Katherine Rich pointing out important problems.
    Madam
    The paper by Chepulis et al.(1) published online by this journal contains errors, inconsistencies, unsubstantiated statements and a lack of evidence to support its conclusions. The following comments refer to the different sections of the paper as published.

    Abstract
    There is an error in the abstract and on p.4 of the paper, which reports that New Zealand had the highest percentage of beverages with added sugar while the UK had the lowest with 9%. The UK figure should have been 39%. The erroneous figure was seized upon by the New Zealand media to demonstrate how far behind New Zealand was from the UK and to highlight the potential impact of a sugar tax. ...
    It goes on from there. Katherine talks more about it here, and notes that the journal now has an updated corrected version up - which will be covered in zero of the newspapers that pointed to the original work. All of this is consistent with a model of public health research that cares far more about getting a couple days of screaming headlines with incorrect figures than about truth-seeking. 

  • Brendan Harre pulls together several of his suggestions around housing affordability. I agree with the broad thrust - we have an incentive-alignment problem where central government reaps the bulk of the benefit of growth but local councils have to find ways of funding the infrastructure to enable it. Interesting suggestions throughout.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The foreign buyer ban - revisited

Labour's foreign buyer ban is back from select committee.

Recall that I had a few issues with the prior draft:
  • It catches people living in New Zealand on work visas who are not yet resident, but who may intend on becoming resident. For example, a doctor coming in to work in Greymouth on a skilled migrant work visa would be banned from buying a house there until she has achieved residence. An international student graduating from Invercargill's Southern Institute of Technology and moving onto a work visa and into a job there couldn't buy a house. 
  • Permanent residents who split time overseas, or who have to spend some time abroad, can be hit by it. 
  • It would mess up financing of projects like apartment towers where funding can come from foreigners who buy off-the-plans and then rent to locals.
  • It will mess up building larger developments where the developer is considered foreign-owned because more than 25% of their shareholding is foreign. 
  • It sets hurdles before infrastructure companies needing to buy bits of residential land for cell towers, power lines, telecom cables, or water pipes. 
  • It creates confusion where a business includes residential premises for workers and the business is purchased by a foreign outfit. Would they have to tear down the houses?
And, on top of all that, it's hard even to show that there's any kind of problem. The proportion of transactions involving foreign-affiliated buyers is low, and highly variable across the country. 

  • Can the Overseas Investment Office really handle 3000% more applications? Really?
  • Why apply it across the whole country if you're just mad about Auckland?
  • If New Zealand really wants to attract skilled migrants, treating them badly isn't a great way of doing that. 
  • We look like dolts in international trade negotiations.
  • Regulatory uncertainty for investment in residential development is a stupid thing to add in when we already have big problems in getting housing developed. Don't we want the big foreign companies that can build to scale? 
  • What kind of precedent are we setting when we run policy in this shonky a process? And what should we think about a Treasury that figures it's ok to put up an RIS where the problem definition is just "Labour wants to do this; this bill solves that problem." What kind of tinpot policy process are we running here?
Ok. So, what's in the Bill back from committee? 

First up, I Am Not A Lawyer. There's bound to be stuff I'm missing and that lawyers for those directly affected will catch. I am not checking stuff like "In section 62(a), replace "section 17(2)(f)" with "section 16E(4)(f) or 17(2)(f)"." is consequential. In a better world, legislation that needs this much fixing after first reading because it had such poor pre-implementation process would have a sunset clause on it requiring fairly stringent post-implementation review for any renewal. 

First, the good stuff:
  • Anybody on residence-class visas now counts as domestic. When I moved here, it was on a skilled migrant resident visa; I became permanent resident a couple years later. Others coming in on talent visas that aren't resident will still be blocked. So we might expect people to try harder for the residence-class visas. But at least they're counting a broader class of residents as domestic. 
  • There is now a waiver available for those normally resident to buy a house if they're out of country for 183 days in the prior year - the Minister must be satisfied that the person intends to continue to reside in New Zealand. That still seems burdensome, but it's better than it was. 
  • People building apartment towers can some of the apartments off the plans to foreign investors so long as they're then not occupied by those investors. I have no clue what monitoring burden that will involve, or whether any of the appeal of funding an apartment here to be rented out was the option to live in it occasionally. They've also put in a fix for investors in hotel units. [Update: this also applies to buying off-the-plans in larger new housing developments]
  • There are exemptions for network utility operators in telecom, electricity and gas. 
  • Relationship property exemptions would let the surviving non-resident spouse or partner take on the deceased partner's house without having to seek OIA consent.
  • Conveyancing gets easier where the buyer has to attest to meeting the criteria rather than the conveyancer being liable. 
  • Foreign investors in large developments won't be required to on-sell immediately on construction if they intend on renting it out.
  • Residences on a property that are ancillary to the business purpose also have exemption: the buyer of a vineyard that comes with housing for some of the workers won't be hit as a foreign home-buyer.
And the stuff that's still a problem:
  • There remains no adequate explanation of the problem that the ban seeks to solve, nor any reason to expect the policy will improve housing affordability.
  • During the election campaign, Labour wanted to go after foreign speculators, and suggested foreigners would have to build a house here to be able to own it. The increased housing test at Clause 11 still requires eventual on-sale, or non-occupation. Someone coming in on a work visa cannot buy a piece of land and build a house on it to live in.
  • OIO's capacity for taking this on hasn't been addressed, though if the 'benefit to New Zealand' test is now simpler, that could help.
  • There were problems in there for estates where a foreign-based family member takes on the house to be passed on to minor children; I'm not sure what now happens in that case. 
  • I can see political reasons for carving out profits à prendre exemptions for forestry and not for other sectors, but I can't see good reasons for it. The government has made tree-planting a priority, and perhaps sees the exemption as a way of helping them achieve their tree-planting goals. But what of other land-based industries with their own goals?
  • The Opposition statement on the bill points out that retirement villages haven't been given exemptions allowing financing by unit sales to foreign buyers. 
  • Because the legislation was drafted quickly, and amended in response to the first round of criticisms, it seems rather likely that we will find other branches to bash our heads on as we go. 
  • NZIER's critiques remain. 
Update: John Ballingall points me to a bit that isn't in the Bill as reported back from committee, but is in Minister Parker's press release: Australian and Singapore citizens and residents are treated as New Zealand citizens and permanent residents for purposes of the ban. I had known that Australians were exempt from the ban, and had known that they were going to have to do something about Singapore because of the trade deal there. 

I have not seen any additional detail, so do not know whether Singaporean citizens and residents would face the same encumbrances as New Zealand permanent residents, or whether Singaporean citizens would be treated as New Zealand citizens and Singaporean residents would be treated as New Zealand residents. 

But if Singaporean citizens would be treated as New Zealand citizens, then long-standing New Zealand permanent residents would face more encumbrance than Singaporean citizens because of the rules around presence in the prior year. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Storing resources for the future

In this week's NBR, I made the case for storing materials until it proves economical to recycle them. I think that is consistent with Auckland Council's declared zero-waste mission.

Think about bauxite deposits. Some of those deposits are economical to mine now for aluminium production; some may become worth mining in the future. It would be a mistake to try and pull all of the bauxite out of the ground today just because somebody doesn't like that it's sitting down there in the ground, waiting to be pulled out later when it's profitable to pull it out. Prices do a great job in helping people figure out which deposits should be saved for later.

Some waste materials are eminently profitable to recycle now. Copper is so profitable to recycle that some folks try pulling it from live power lines. But other materials are not currently profitable to recycle.

I suggest that we should store those materials safely, in a clay-lined hole, covered up so they cannot blow away and cause issues elsewhere. That the fee for storing the materials should cover the costs of building and maintaining the storage facility. And that doing things that way minimises overall waste - just as we waste resources mining difficult bauxite deposits before their time, so too do we waste resources when trying to recycle difficult materials before technology has made that recycling profitable.

Those with a subscription can read it here.

One reader emailed me to note that if tip resource storage facility fees are too high, it can encourage illegal dumping. He's right. I like how Christchurch handled that problem when I first moved there: each household gets 26 rubbish resource storage bags free for the year, but has to pay for any extras.

The problem shouldn't be too big though where tip resource storage facility fees aren't that high. But it could be more substantial if tip resource storage facility fees were set to punish evil rather than to just recoup the costs of running a tip resource storage facility.

Sunday Star-Times on sugar

Eventually, you hit a tipping point with underresourced newsrooms where you kinda wonder whether they should just shut the thing down rather than continue.

Here's John Anthony's piece in the Sunday Star-Times on sugar.
A recruitment drive by Coca-Cola to combat the threat of sugar taxes has been slammed as "appalling" by the New Zealand Dental Association.

A Coca-Cola South Pacific advertisement on LinkedIn for a public affairs and communications manager role promises "an opportunity to make a difference in the world" working for the global drinks giant.

The successful applicant, who will work from Auckland, will manage government relationships in the Pacific Islands to ensure sugar taxes don't negatively impact the business, the job ad says.

A Coca-Cola spokesman says it does not support sugary drink taxes as they are "ineffective as a means of combating obesity".

However, that's contrary to findings reached by an international cohort of experts who have published a new paper in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, highlighting "compelling evidence" that sugar taxes help improve health outcomes.
Ok, so public health people are mad that Coca-Cola doesn't like sugar taxes. The rest of the article is Valiant Saintly Public Health People against Evil Companies.

I guess that's an easy story to file.

Here's what the Ministry of Health had to say about sugar taxes:
...our current position [is] that there is insufficient evidence that a sugar tax would be effective in reducing obesity.
And the report the Ministry of Health commissioned from NZIER found the same thing.

If we go to the Lancet piece Anthony cites, we find that it is a two-page "Comment" piece. The Lancet notes that most of its Comment pieces are commissioned. I don't know whether they then go through any peer review, but this was most likely just Lancet editor Richard Horton asking Casswell's group for an oped on how great it is to tax alcohol, tobacco and sugar.

Much of the rest of the article is Casswell and Beaglehole opining on sugar, and how it's terrible that a company might have a corporate affairs rep that might ever oppose them.

Shouldn't we have expected the story to mention, somewhere, that the Ministry of Health, and the report it commissioned, found against sugar taxes? And that the Lancet piece was in their opeds section?

Friday, 15 June 2018

Australia really sucked in the 70s

Frances Woolley points to Barbara Spencer's Address to the Canadian Women Economist's Network lunch at the 2002 Canadian Economic Association meetings. I hadn't read it before.

Some less-than-fun features of Oz through the early 1970s to which Spencer points:
  • Until 1966, any woman in the public service who married had to resign, unless she were a secretary and could join the typing pool;
  • Women in the public service, until 1969, were required to be on lower pay;
  • It took until 1972 for regulations restricting women's advancement in the public service to be removed;
  • Scholarships for teachers at ANU were very generous, but bonded: graduates had to go and teach in remote places for five years after graduation, unless they got married. Unsurprisingly, almost all of them got married just after completing their degrees. 
  • CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation, blocked female appointments because their scientists had to go out on field expeditions, and they didn't have toileting facilities in the field that CSIRO considered adequate for women. So while they didn't ban female appointments, all appointees had to be able to go out on field expeditions, and women were not allowed on field expeditions. This was apparently endemic through the mid-70s in sciences. 
    "A friend, who is currently a professor at the ANU in Social Welfare, was told in about 1974 by the career guidance councillor at her high school in Canberra not to do science because of the lack of appropriate bathroom facilities."
But there are also some excellent fun observations about Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.
I knew very little about Canada except that it was rumoured to be cold and that it produced lots of logs and beavers. Arriving at Winnipeg just before Christmas in 1969 was a shock. It was so cold and desolate looking that I thought I had arrived on the moon by mistake. I had no boots, only sandals, and my feet nearly got frostbite as I got off the plane at 30 below zero on the open tarmac.

However, it may surprise you that over my years in Winnipeg, I gradually grew to appreciate the stark beauty in flatness and endless white. I remember going out into the country side and realizing that the white snowy ground stretches, basically unchanged, for hundreds of miles. I never grew to appreciate the cold.
I was an undergraduate at Manitoba, doing a double-honours in Economics and Politics, 1994-1998. The economics faculty baffled me. But there's a long history there - and one that a farm kid going to the local university would never know.

Here's how Spencer found it in the 70s.
I arrived at Manitoba with a job as a part time lecturer in the Economics Department, starting January 1970. For my first course, I took over Principles of Economics from Cy Gonick, a well known Marxist or New Left economist, as he called himself, who had recently been elected to the Legislature as part of the NDP sweep into power. Taking over from Cy Gonick was a memorable experience. His version of microeconomic theory had mostly been a diatribe against the role of U.S. multinational corporations in suppressing Canadian independence. Most of the students were taking the course solely because Cy Gonick was teaching it, including a group of about 10 Maoists, who were there to heckle him. Cy neglected to tell the students that he would not be teaching in the second term and, in addition, he promised that there would be no final examination, something that was contrary to the rules of the University. Not surprisingly, the students were quite upset and angry when they learned that I would be teaching the macroeconomics part of the course and that I would make heavy use of algebra, which would be tested on the exam. Despite being given a half eaten apple as a present by a student and no doubt receiving dreadful teaching evaluations, somehow I survived and was actually rehired by the then Chair, Clarence Barber, to teach Mathematical Economics and Intermediate Microeconomics the next year.
I remember a John Loxley seminar on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment that was very much in the Gonick tradition. 
I returned to Manitoba in January 1979 to find it in turmoil, with Cy Gonick, the leader of the left wing faction, newly appointed as Head and many of the faculty attempting to move the location of their offices to Colleges on campus, as far from the main department as possible. I did manage to get promoted to Associate Professor that year, but it was obvious that I had to leave. 
Departments that get themselves into this kind of mess do such a terrible disservice to their students. Maybe you can do that at a small teaching university somewhere, where everyone applying to the place is applying to go there because they want to see Maoists fighting Marxists and want to be right at the heart of debates within a fringe part of the discipline. But pulling this crap in the economics department at the province's flagship university - it isn't right.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Gotta adjust for population

I know it's tempting if you want to run a scare story on how bad something is to just run totals over time and to ignore population growth.

But it's pretty poor practice.

Here's a piece over in Stuff. It's got the headline "New Zealand: Where alcohol is normalised - and that means more drinking". It doesn't have a by-line, presumably because the author is too ashamed to admit to writing it.

If you want to say more drinking, you either need to compare it to other places, or over time.

The piece has this chart on alcohol availability from Figure NZ. It gives total alcohol consumption, by quarter, from 2012 Q4 through 2017Q4.

It looks like this.

Now I don't know why they didn't go through March quarter 2018. That data's now up. Maybe Figure had an easy-to-find one that had that time range. Who knows. But that's the more minor problem. The more major one is that we've had substantial population growth since 2012.

So you'd find an upward track in total consumption of most stuff in New Zealand. More people means more consumption. Except this total track is pretty flat. I bet that means decreasing per capita consumption. Well, it's a sucker-bet because I know the data. 

Here's what the per capita data looks like, out of Infoshare, using population aged 18+ as denominator. 

Whatever hypothesis they're trying to run about normalisation leading to more drinking has to contend with the substantial decline in per capita alcohol availability since liberalisation with the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act. There was a mild rise through 2010, then it came back down again. I suppose you could base predictions of another increase on mean reversion or something 

And we're low to middling in the international per-cap consumption stats too. 9-ish litres per capita is around the middle of the OECD tables. If you want to look at overall global tables, maybe don't rank us against countries in the mid-east that will cut your head off for drinking. 

And I don't think this is just the web-person at Stuff chucking in some pretty(ish) charts. From the article: 
And alcohol sales continue to rise. In the 12 months to March, they reached $1.6 billion - a $200 million increase from last year, Statistics New Zealand figures showed.
Sales, in dollar terms, can go up for all kinds of reasons. You can spend more while drinking less by shifting up-market. You can have an increasing total dollar spend just with more people being here - and more tourists rolling through and drinking as they go. Or you could have actual increases in per capita alcohol consumption accompanied by increasing expenditure. You need to check the volume per capita stats, not the total expenditure stats. 

The article takes the latest SHORE work by Huckle as hook.
Boozing has become normalised in New Zealand, and that means it's likely we'll drink more - and at higher risk levels, new research says.

One of the study's authors, Massey University's Docter Taisia Huckle, said: "What does normalisation look like? It looks like New Zealand.

"We have a situation where alcohol is completely normalised in society, through advertising, marketing and availability, alcohol is reasonably priced."

School children could walk past three liquor outlets on the way to school or see advertising on social media, she said.

We're a high-income country - and that means our drinking frequency is higher than middle-income nations, according to the researchers, who studied drinking patterns across 10 nations in a report published on Thursday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
Ok. SHORE and Huckle have a couple pieces in Drug & Alcohol Review.

The first one is survey work asking drinkers where they purchase their alcohol, at what time they purchase it, how long it would take them to obtain alcohol and, if under-aged, how often they're asked for ID and get served. It doesn't say anything about normalisation. It does show that New Zealand kids are the most likely to report being asked for ID out of the set of places surveyed, and are third least-likely to report being served alcohol. 

I don't get the link to normalisation in any of this. The article's Table 1 reports the "percentages of drinkers purchasing alcohol at an on-premise or take-away outlets across countries at least once in the last 6 months", but we have no clue about baseline proportion of drinkers - the table just says that Kiwi drinkers are a bit less likely than Oz drinkers to buy at pubs, more likely to buy at duty-free shops and at the cinema, and more likely to buy at clubs and restaurants. For a normalisation argument, wouldn't you need to show increasing proportions of people at different venues who consume alcohol there, rather than the venue choices among current drinkers?

The second one is more survey work comparing Oz, England, Scotland, Thailand, Peru, Vietnam and NZ. 

Table 1 shows that NZ has the smallest proportion of heavier drinkers, the second-highest proportion of low-risk drinkers (Peru has 74% low risk, NZ has 62% low risk) and the second-lowest proportion of higher-risk drinkers (Peru has 2% higher risk, NZ has 15%). I also don't see anything in there about normalisation. 

Upshot:
  • Always run a population correction for this kind of thing. It's absurd to point to total spending on something or total consumption of something as being a bad thing, unless that thing is bad in a total way. Total carbon dioxide emissions can go up despite drops in per capita emissions (say) and that would be bad because the harm comes from the total. Alcohol isn't like that.
  • The research forming the hook doesn't really say anything about normalisation, and instead shows NZ to have less high risk drinking and more low risk drinking than Australia, England, Scotland, Thailand, and Vietnam - but not Peru. 
  • I expect the journalist didn't sign the article out of embarrassment, and is right to feel shame.