Latta goes easy on alcohol. Yeah, right

Nigel Latta began the third episode of his six-part series reflecting on the drinking habits he adopted during his years as a student at Otago University.

It was also where he began his quest to get to the bottom of New Zealand’s alcohol problem.

Following on from a largely hands-on episode that looked at New Zealand’s education system last week, the experts and the numbers were this week called on by Latta to reveal how New Zealand’s drinking culture has become what it is today.

Latta and his experts put emphasis on the immense financial cost alcohol places on the country. Among the figures presented, it was revealed that New Zealanders spend about $85 million per week on alcohol, but it costs the country about $5 billion dollars per year in damage.

Alcohol is also reportedly cheaper than bottled water.

Further, 80 percent of the country’s plastic surgeries on the face can be attributed to assaults or falls involving intoxication.

A portion of the episode was spent comparing the damage alcohol does to our bodies and our society with that caused by smoking.

The former was reinforced by Latta’s trip to Otago University’s Pathology Museum. Several of Latta’s experts were of the opinion that alcohol causes cancer, the views of whom were seconded by a terminal cancer patient.

Latta also spent a brief period tracking the change in society’s behaviour over the last century. The years 1979, 1967 and 1989 were all cited for notable changes in legislation. The allowance given to supermarkets to sell alcohol was heavily cited, and Professor Doug Sellman put to Latta his belief that New Zealand’s supermarkets are the country’s ‘biggest drug dealers’, given that 70 percent of alcohol originates from them.

Sellman also compared alcohol to a Class B drug being sold on a supermarket shelf alongside similar drugs such as morphine.

Sir Geoffery Palmer shared his disappointment with Latta over the government’s handling of a Law Commission report which recommended several ways the country’s drinking culture could be mitigated, despite admitting the changes he helped introduce in 1989 were wrong.

Latta also revealed how he was approached by the New Zealand Government Affairs Lobbyist for the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, offering to be of any assistance that she could, though as discussions on subject matter progressed, that offer disintegrated, and no one fronted.

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In dealing with the subject of education, Latta went on to contact the head of their education initiative, The Tomorrow Project, responsible for the education website In a tense debate, Latta presented his opinion that the initiative wasn’t enough, and had an agenda. He went further to determine that education doesn’t work anyway, a view shared by recovering alcoholics and experts he spoke to.

Though Latta touched on marketing on a couple of occasions, the final minutes of the hour were devoted to the alcohol producers themselves, with the primary focus being that the country’s alcohol manufacturers are owned by multinational corporations led by Mitsubishi and Heineken. Latta used the Speights brand as an example of this. Our country’s free trade agreements were also added to the debate.

Over the hour, Latta concluded that alcohol in New Zealand is a complex subject that clearly involves substantial amounts of money, large corporations, and is heavily influenced by politics.

Latta was in favour of the recommendations of the 2010 Law Commission report into the subject, which recommended limiting availability, increasing the drinking age and price, and restricting advertising and marketing.

As with my past pieces on Nigel Latta’s series, I’ve been careful to leave my personal views out of this one also as it is my belief that the viewer needs to come to their own conclusions from what has been explored in this episode. Latta presented an hour that was more thoroughly researched than the previous episodes of his series to date, and a highly qualified panel of experts all supported his opinions and the data presented.