Alcohol, mainly wine has become cheaper than bottled water in New Zealand, a study showed Friday, with researchers warning there could be major implications for public health. However an independent television news investigation questioned the report.
Otago University researchers found wine cost as little as 62 cents (47 US) per standard drink, compared to 67 cents for 250ml of bottled water and 43 cents for the equivalent amount of milk.
The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, also found the relative price of alcohol had plummeted over the past decade as average wages increased.
Our analysis suggests alcohol is now probably the cheapest recreational drug in New Zealand and has become increasingly affordable, at the same time as concern about binge drinking culture has grown, associate professor Nick Wilson said.
International scientific evidence strongly indicates that cheap alcohol is a factor in promoting binge drinking by young people, and in increasing the overall size of the health and social harm from alcohol misuse.
Professor Wilson said heavy discounting at supermarkets and liquor stores was exacerbating the problem, making alcohol more readily available.
A grape glut in NZ has driven down the price of wine in recent years as winemakers seek to offload excess stock.
Wilson and co-researcher Fiona Gunasekara said cheap alcohol was taking a toll on New Zealanders' health and placing a burden on the publicly-funded health system.
They argued the government should adopt the same policies that helped curb tobacco consumption -- raising taxes and controlling marketing and sponsorship activities, as well as limiting the opening hours of retailers.
In 1999 a NZ labourer needed 21 minutes to consume the maximum quantity of alcohol allowed when driving (80 milligrams per litre), but in 2009 it was down to 17 minutes. Furthermore if it was cask wine, 7 minutes of work was sufficient.
The researchers also called for a minimum price per unit of alcohol, particularly in cask wine and alcopops.
These policies will have little impact on moderate drinkers and will help curb the down-side of New Zealand’s binge drinking culture, they said.
However an investigation from a NZ television channel showed that the claim was not always the case. TV One News said that at the supermarket the cheapest water it could find came in a three litre container, which cost $2.57.
The cheapest wines in the same quantity on the other hand were priced at $22 and the cheapest beer, in a 12 pack and about five litres in quantity, was $18.40.
Applying the same calculations used in the Otago study, the glass of water cost less at only 21c, while the beer pack cost $1.10 for a glass and the cask of wine cost 71c for a standard drink.
Meanwhile, NZ Independent Liquor said it welcomed the release of the university research paper. General Manager Julian Davidson, of Independent Liquor's NZ operations, called for all alcohol to be regulated in a consistent, common manner.
This University of Otago paper shows that there is insufficient information available to the community regarding the consumption of alcohol and why evidence based reform is vital.
Davidson said the data comparing the prices of wine, beer and spirits highlighted the fact that cask wine was the cheapest way to purchase alcohol in NZ.