Editorial | Issue 16

Editorial | Issue 16


It seems very 1930s to be having a debate about alcohol, but here we are. Parliament is looking at legislation to up the drinking age, the University is going further and further in its efforts to reign in student drinking, and the city council continues to consider the proposed North Dunedin liquor ban.

At the heart of the current debate is what controls the government, or any other organisation, should be able to place on an adult person’s right to drink alcohol. Possibly the strangest thing about alcohol is its legality when there are other, arguably much less harmful drugs that are outlawed. But society has made a call that the benefits of alcohol are greater than its harms.

At 18 you’re old enough to marry, have children, buy a house, or go to war. It seems inconsistent to say that you cannot also access the same intoxicant that every other adult in New Zealand is allowed to buy.

But maybe we do need training wheels while we are effectively learning how to use a drug. The split drinking age, which would allow 18-year-olds to buy alcohol in a bar but would restrict them from buying booze at an off license till they were 20, seems to be the most logical way to go. Allow 18-year-olds to drink in what is at least a semi-supervised space and hopefully they will learn healthy drinking habits.

The part of the equation that we often forget as students is that it is not only 18-year-olds that are harmed by youth drinking. The “real” drinking age is the age at which young people can access alcohol. An 18-year-old is more likely to illegally buy alcohol for a 14-year-old than a 20-year-old is. If the off license age goes up to 20 the real drinking age should go up as well, reducing alcohol harm to the very young.

While Parliament’s changes will affect everyone, the changes and attitude of Otago Uni will have very specific effects on scarfies, and personally I’ve got big concerns about their direction. When the head of the group that Otago has established to implement new alcohol policies publicly states that there is no healthy level of drinking and that all drinking is risky, it seems impossible that there will be a considered approach. This is an extreme position to hold, and one that is contravened by a huge body of research.

In loco parentis is the idea that an organisation has a legal responsibility to take on the responsibilities of a person’s parents when they are under their care. Before the social revolutions of the 1960s universities took on the role of parents. They segregated the sexes, enforced curfews, and had an iron grasp on drinking. I believe that we are facing an informal return to an in loco parentis attitude at Otago. Maybe we’re okay with that, maybe we’re not, but it’s a conversation that we should be involved in.

- Joe Stockman
This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2012.
Posted 5:14pm Sunday 15th July 2012 by Joe Stockman.