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Drink

 

As the Law Commission considers how to curb the country’s booze culture, Donna C H isHolm tells the story of four

  • C ameron Hawkins didn’t intend to get on the turps the night he accidentally drank himself to death. It was a Saturday, but the horti culture student had a shift at the Mr Apple

young men who didn’t survive a night of drinking – and asks what, if any, law changes might have

packing shed the next day and wanted an early night. He even headed to bed for a nap around 8pm, but when he heard his mates partying, got up and joined in.

 

saveD t H eir lives.

donna chisholm is north & south’s editor-at-large.

   

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Above: Cameron Hawkins.

Above: Cameron Hawkins.

Researchers

Cameron’s blood

estimate the “lethal dose” is about 30 standard drinks, although some die with less booze on board or survive with much more.

alcohol level was 396mg per 100ml of blood – almost five times the legal driving limit.

 

Saturday nights usually signalled party time in the sociable Taradale flat he had moved into with his best friends Lucas Holmberg, Matt Hellyer and Stephanie Brenchley only a few weeks earlier. They’d crack open the

  • C ameron Hawkins, Daniel Hansman, Willy Cranswick and “Neil” [Neil’s family asked that North & South respect their privacy by not publishing

Woodstocks and Tuis early in the evening and be pleasantly cut by the time they cabbed into town for happy hour at the Havelock Tavern at 11pm, when Midori Illusions were only $7.50, half-price. But this night – a balmy end- of-summer evening – they’d got on the booze early, there was plenty left still, and nobody could really be bothered. It was cheaper to stay home, too. The Taradale bottle store always gave them good deals on the Woodstock bourbon and cokes – $25 for 18 – and loads of free, branded stuff like Frisbees, jandals and keychains. “They knew me and Cam by name,” says Lucas, “so they often did specials just for us. We got two- for-one deals.” The Taradale flatmates weren’t the only ones getting pissed that night. As they partied around the stereo, they could hear the strains of Jimmy Barnes and Tom Jones performing to a much wealthier crowd at the Mission Vineyard concert just a kilometre away – an evening one reviewer would describe as a booze fest.

their surname.] Four young men. All tertiary students. All kids from provincial centres living away from home for the first time. All dead from alcohol. But these were not stereotypical booze deaths. These kids didn’t get into a car and drive. They didn’t get violent. They broke no laws. But they all got drunk and died. Hawkins, who attended Napier’s Eastern Institute of Technology, and Neil, a Canterbury University science student, drank so much it seems they just keeled over and dropped dead. Hansman fell off the wharf near Wellington’s overseas terminal and drowned. Cranswick was playing bull-rush in a student bar in Palmerston North and hit his head on someone’s knee. No one at the pub did anything to help and he died of an undiagnosed brain bleed the next day. These were good boys, among our brightest and best – university students with big dreams, high hopes and a love of life, adored by their families, cherished by their friends.

By the time that the Mission crowd had dispersed around midnight, paramedics were trying to revive Cameron Hawkins. But by 3am, he was dead. He had just turned 19.

And each of them a victim of the many and varied ways in which alcohol is targeted at youth – particularly university students who, the research shows, drink more

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hazardously than others the same age. The deaths of Hawkins, Cranswick and Neil were mentioned anonymously in the weighty Law Commission paper Alcohol in our Lives, released last July, which proposed a raft of options to limit the harm New Zealanders do every day by drinking too much. Among them were price increases and raising the purchase age for off-licence liquor. The commission heard submissions on the report for three months in 2009 and its final recommendations will be released in March. They look likely to lead to the biggest shakeup to our liquor laws since they were liberalised in 1989. For the families of these young men, change will come too late. Yes, their sons were foolhardy, they say – of course they shouldn’t have drunk so much – but the culpability is not theirs alone.

CAM E RON HAWKI NS

born February 23, 1989. Died Hawke’s bay, march 2, 2008.

S haremilkers Shona and Mark Hawkins had been “hard-out” drinkers in their youth but gave up when they joined the Salvation Army about 10 years ago. Cameron,

one of six children, was a “junior soldier” in the army until he converted to Catholicism at 17. His parents had repeatedly warned him of the perils of drinking. “By the time I was 26, I’d buried 13 of my mates and most of them were from alcohol – four in one crash,” says Mark. Shona and Mark asked Cameron’s friends to talk to North & South about the night Cameron died in the hope it might save

another young person from the same fate. The flatmates, now aged 20 and 21, said Cameron started the night on beers and Woodstock ready-to-drink (RTD) bourbons but later moved on to a concoction they called Jake the Muss – a mix of beer, Bacardi, Everglades liqueurs and Jim Beam. Cameron was sculling the lethal brew from his favourite gimmicky Coke glass which flashed when you pushed the button on the bottom. He must have had about three of them, says Lucas, but it was hard to keep track. The friends admit this was a boozy flat. Food was often sacrificed for drink, and they’d survive on takeaway McDonald’s and Burger King and supermarket meat patties. “We had heaps of top-shelf stuff,” says Lucas. “Our fridge was always full of bottles:

Woodstocks mainly. There was Jim Beam,

john cowpland

absinthe, Johnny Walker

...

I would spend $60

to $70 a week on alcohol. I spent more than

Cam because I drank more – Cam was more

into saving money but I didn’t care if I saved

at that time.”

While the others began drinking earlier

that day – “We were half-cut by the time he

started” – Cameron seemed unintentionally

to be playing catch-up after he joined them.

“I don’t think he wanted me to drink alone,”

says Lucas. “And one led to another and

another.”

The flatmates were avid fans of WWE

wrestling and, on big drinking nights, they’d

award a wrestling belt to the last man

standing. “It wasn’t on the line that night, but

when he was really wasted, Cameron said he

wanted to win the belt.”

At 11.30, Cameron, happy but slurring,

got up off the sofa and fell over, hitting the

TV on the way down. Lucas, Matt and

another flatmate, James, lifted him to his

feet and carried him to bed where they put

him in the recovery position with a bucket

nearby. They’d never seen their friend so

drunk and, though tipsy themselves, were

sufficiently worried to check him every few

minutes.

Just after midnight, Lucas found Cameron

unconscious with his lips dark blue and his

tongue badly swollen. A river of vomit poured

out when they opened his mouth.

As Stephanie called an ambulance, Matt

and Lucas began CPR while James tried the

Heimlich manoeuvre. Paramedics tried for

more than two hours to bring Cameron

Hawkins back to life with electric shocks and

adrenalin.

At the sound of the flatlining heart monitor,

a devastated Matt Hellyer threw a chair at

the wall and screamed.

s hona and m ark Hawkins got the news

when Mark was bringing in the second herd

for milking on the farm at Reporoa. Police

told him Cameron had choked. The Hawkins

didn’t find out how much alcohol was

involved until weeks later.

Lucas Holmberg says before his best mate

died, he’d thought the only way alcohol killed

kids his age was through drink-driving. That’s

why they always used a sober driver.

They had no idea that alcohol in high doses

could itself be a killer. Researchers estimate

the “lethal dose” is about 30 standard drinks,

although some die with less booze on board

or survive with much more.

Cameron’s blood-alcohol level was 396mg

per 100ml of blood – almost five times the

legal driving limit. His intake could have

john cowpland absinthe, Johnny Walker ... I would spend $60 to $70 a week on alcohol.
john cowpland absinthe, Johnny Walker ... I would spend $60 to $70 a week on alcohol.

Top: Cameron’s flatmates Lucas Holmberg (left), Matt Hellyer and Stephanie Brenchley. Above: Cameron’s parents, Mark and Shona Hawkins.

been fatal even at 300-350mg.

Despite the fact the flatmates were stocking

their fridge with cheap alcohol, they believe

higher prices wouldn’t have significantly cut

their intake.

North & South asked them if any warnings

could have changed the outcome.

Said Stephanie: “No, absolutely nothing. I

reckon we would have just been, ‘No, that

won’t happen to us.’”

Lucas: “No, it won’t hit [other young adults]

until it hits them like it hit us.”

They don’t drink as much now, though

Lucas admits he sometimes gets wasted “to

take away the pain”.

Shona Hawkins says when she went back

to the Taradale flat to pick up her dead son’s

clothes, a friend of the flatmates gave her the

wrestling belt.

At 11.30, Cameron, happy but slurring, got up off the sofa and fell over, hitting the TV on the way down.

 

“She said, ‘Here, Cam won this; he deserves

this.’”

She knew it was offered with love but, she

says, “I just wanted to grab it and throw it

against the wall in that split second. All I

thought was, ‘That’s robbed me of my son.

That’s taken my son.’”

 

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“It was going to be a good day. The plan was to have a few drinks and check out a few girls, basically have a good time,” one friend told the coroner.

Drinking in New Zealand

A bout 1000 people a year die of alcohol-related causes – about half because of accidents and a quarter from alcohol-related cancers.

Since July 2007, 16 New Zealanders with no history of alcoholism have died of alcohol toxicity from a drinking binge. Waikato coroner Peter Ryan said he had four inquests in six months in 2008 in which people had drunk themselves to death. In September 2009, there was another – a 24-year-old man who’d died with a blood- alcohol level of 330mg, more than four times the legal driving limit. “These seem to be ordinary people doing ordinary things – drinking socially but to an excessive degree. “I don’t think the public are aware that simply by drinking to excess they could end up dead as a result of aspirating vomit or suppressing the respiratory system.” He said even he hadn’t been aware of it until the inquests. He said warning labels on alcohol could raise public awareness. Wellington Hospital emergency department specialist Paul Quigley said it was impossible to know the difference between a drunk who would simply sleep it off and those who would die. “Everyone who drinks to the point that they are unrousable is at risk of death. It’s as simple as that.” It was best to keep the drunk awake

if possible, or place them in the recovery position with their head in a slightly downward position so that any vomit would trickle away.

“ NE I L”

born november 1984. Died Christchurch, september 23, 2008.

S ix months after Cameron Hawkins

died, Canterbury University

science student Neil – a fit but

lightly built 23-year-old – lost his

life in strikingly similar circum-

stances. Like Cameron, Neil had been

drinking heavily, but over a much longer

period; he and his friends had attended the

“students’ day” at the Riccarton races before

continuing to drink at the home of his

childhood friend Chris.

The Canterbury Jockey Club cancelled

students’ day in September 2009 after

disorderly behaviour by alcohol-fuelled

students in 2008 – although hundreds turned

up anyway to honour the tradition started in

the late 1990s. In those days, the club offered

students entry to the course, food and all the

beer and wine they could drink for $50. By

2008, however, when numbers swelled to

more than 1000, the ticket price fell to $45

and free drinks were capped at three.

Neil’s inquest heard everyone was in high

spirits and dressed for the occasion; he’d

borrowed a suit for the day. “It was going to

be a good day. The plan was to have a few

drinks and check out a few girls, basically

have a good time,” one friend told the coroner.

“There were no negatives – everyone was

just out to have a good time.”

They bought two three-litre casks of red

wine from the Riccarton Mall Pak ’n’ Save

on the way, and drank it mixed with Coke.

Neil’s mate Charles said they didn’t eat

anything at the races, and Neil was also

drinking beer. He was photographed holding

up a can of Speight’s.

Neil and his friends had done the right

thing by getting a sober driver to pick them

up from the races about 4pm. On the way

home, they stopped at the Riccarton Rd

Countdown and picked up a 12-pack of

Corona beer, and they still had the remains

of the red wine.

Around 10pm, despite being very drunk,

Neil walked to a nearby Burger King for

takeaways. One friend said no one that night

seemed particularly intoxicated and Neil,

while “past tipsy” was “not offensively

drunk”. “He wasn’t slurring his words or

stumbling into anything that I noticed.”

What happened next shows how shockingly

quickly alcohol can shut down the body.

Just before 11pm, Neil was sitting in a

friend’s car outside Chris’s flat. At 11pm, they

came inside to get ready to go into town to

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play pool at the Rockpool Bar on Hereford St.

At 11.40pm, just before leaving for town, Neil

was so drunk he fell off a chair and was helped

to the couch, but said he was fine. Ten minutes

later, just like Cameron Hawkins, he got up

from the couch, and fell over.

Within seconds, his friends realised some-

thing was terribly wrong – Neil was vomiting

but his jaw was clamped tightly shut and they

were unable to clear his airway.

Paramedics began CPR and Neil was

admitted to Christchurch Hospital’s intensive-

care unit, where his blood-alcohol level was

only marginally lower than Cameron’s, at

370mg. He died two days later.

Neil’s parents said their son was not usually

a heavy drinker but enjoyed socialising with

friends. Although the coroner referred his

report on Neil’s death to the Alcohol Advisory

Council, the Law Commission and Minister

of Justice as “an extreme example of the

consequences of alcohol abuse”, his parents

said a pathologist gave evidence Neil may

have had an under lying heart condition.

“The loss of our son is unbearable for us,”

they said in a statement to North & South.

“The truly sad thing is that the choices made

by these young people who have died are

no different than those made by many other

young and not-so-young people every day

in New Zealand. Alcohol is an accepted

killer drug in our society. Young people do

not seem to connect the seriousness of the

effects of alcohol and its ability to kill or

seriously harm them. For most of them, it

will seldom become an issue, but our son

paid the ultimate price.”

They said while media emphasised the

risks of drink-driving, education needed to

focus on drinkers being responsible all the

time, not just when driving.

“Many young people do not drink heavily

at all, but on isolated occasions they become

binge drinkers. On this day, the alcohol was

readily available at the race meeting from

late morning and purchased from the

supermarket.”

New Zealand needed to change its attitude

to alcohol, they said.

“We will never be able to accept the prem-

ature death of our lovely son. He was con-

siderate and thoughtful, quietly spoken and

so interested in everything concerning the

world. Our memories of him are precious,

and we grieve for him, the loss of his future,

the wonderful potential and opportunities

of every kind ahead for him, and simply his

presence.”

were so keen for him to go and get a degree – but if I’d known
were so keen for him to go and get a degree
– but if I’d known I was throwing him into
A computer-
this drinking culture I would never have sent
animation student
in his second year
away from home,
Daniel Hansman
was quiet and
peace-loving.
him there so young.”
The Hansmans prepared a submission for
the Law Commission in October, suggesting
the drinking age be returned to 20 and
alcohol removed from supermarkets.
They say the coroner made no recomm-
endations about alcohol at Daniel’s inquest.
Ironically, says
his mother Jean,
Daniel said he
didn’t even like
the taste of
alcohol, and never
drank before he
turned 18.
“The only thing that’s been done is that
where he fell in, they have life rings now,”
says Eddie.
WI LLY C RANSWIC K
born December 30, 1983. Died Wellington,
september 24, 2003.
W airarapa sheep farmers Rod
and Belinda Cranswick
always worried about the
heavy drinking culture at
Massey University’s Palmerston North
DANIEL HANSMAN
thing they could find – often supermarket
campus. At son Willy’s orientation week, says
born september 17, 1986. Died Wellington,
august 10, 2006.
wine. “We’d gone down and growled at him
Belinda, they’d even erected what they called
a couple of times, and said things like, ‘You’ve
a “spew tent” to look after the drunks.
got to watch it, eh. You can’t keep going like
The most popular student pub was “The
D aniel Hansman was so wasted
that,’” says Eddie.
Fitz”, where Willy, a second-year business
the night he fell off the wharf
“He was trying to slow down and not do it
student, and three friends each downed
into Wellington Harbour that
all the time,” a heartbroken Jean told North
about 24 double bourbons before playing
his friends had needed to carry
& South. “He even rang my mum two weeks
bull-rush with bar staff. Willy was knocked
him to the Coyote Bar in
before this happened because she was so
out for about five or 10 minutes during the
Courtenay Place. They’d already got drunk
worried about his drinking. I’d kept telling
game but staff failed to call the ambulance
at a student party, but the bar’s offer of free
Mum I was really scared for him and she told
which could have saved his life – despite
admission or cut-price drinks – parents
him, ‘Be careful, look after yourself.’ Daniel
being twice requested to do so. He died two
Eddie and Jean can’t remember which – was
said, ‘Don’t worry, Nana, I’m going to cut
days later after being flown to Wellington
not to be missed.
down and slow down. I’m not going to do
Hospital’s intensive-care unit. His parents
“He was totally tanked up; right off his tree,”
that stuff any more.’”
had to make the decision to turn off his life
says Eddie, “but his friends were determined
A computer-animation student in his second
support.
to go because of the free passes.”
year away from home, Daniel Hansman was
Willy’s girlfriend, Rebecca Collins, who
Declined admission to the bar about 9pm,
quiet and peace-loving and his parents
says she lost the “love of my life” when he
Daniel lost track of his friends and spent
believe he drank to ease his shyness around
died, had never seen him and his mates as
several hours searching and texting before
women. The other problem was boredom, his
drunk as they were that night. “We were all
toppling into the water near the overseas
mother says. At home, he went surfing or
students, we all went out and had fun, but I
terminal. No one knows exactly what time,
played the drums – neither of which he could
couldn’t believe the state they were in.
but his friends’ phone records suggest it may
do at Victoria. He didn’t have a car to get to
They’d had 100 drinks between them.”
have been up to three hours later.
the beach and couldn’t disturb the other
She’d been called to pick Willy up around
The Hansmans believe he was heading for
students with his drums.
midnight – and found him sitting outside on
another popular student haunt near the
Ironically, says Jean, Daniel said he didn’t
the ground where bar staff had put him,
terminal when he drowned. His body was
even like the taste of alcohol, and never drank
apparently after one said he was “an
not found for a week.
before he turned 18.
embarrassment” to the pub. She took Willy
They’d travelled to Wellington from
Had she realised the danger her son was in
to her flat, and her flatmate helped get him
Taranaki most weekends to visit Daniel at
at university she wouldn’t have let him go till
to bed. He was in great spirits, slurring and
the flat he shared with four other students
he was older. “They are definitely in peril.
rambling good-naturedly, happy that he’d
from the ’Naki, and had become alarmed at
They go from being at school where their lives
been with his mates, “and he loved those guys
how much he was drinking. He was getting
are controlled and there are rules and all of a
so much”.
drunk at least once a week, and binge
sudden they have no boundaries. A lot of
She found him unconscious in bed the
drinking a couple of other nights.
parents don’t know what’s going on. We
next morning.
The teenagers would drink the cheapest
thought we were doing the right thing – we
At one of the hearings following Willy’s
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The bar manager testified that Willy and his mates weren’t drunk. “We asked him what his

The bar manager testified that Willy and his mates

weren’t drunk. “We asked him what his interpretation of the term ‘pissed’ was,” says Rod Cranswick, “and he said, ‘When they stand at the bar and pee their pants.’”

death – which included his inquest and

liquor-licence reviews – the bar manager

testified that Willy and his mates weren’t

drunk. “We asked him what his interpretation

of the term ‘pissed’ was,” says Rod Cranswick,

“and he said, ‘When they stand at the bar and

pee their pants.’”

So it was in appalled disbelief that they

heard a judge acquit the bar manager of

breaching the Sale of Liquor Act by serving

drunk patrons. At Willy’s inquest, Palmerston

North surgeon Richard Coutts contradicted

the decision, saying Willy was intoxicated.

“It beggars belief that anyone could find

otherwise.”

The Cranswicks believe help wasn’t called

that night because staff feared police

attention would follow – after all, staff had

served Willy and his friends six $48 trays of

16 doubles at a time.

They accept, of course, that Willy’s drinking

that night was foolhardy, but their anger at

the bar manager’s lack of responsibility for

Willy’s wellbeing remains. “The heartbreak

of losing our beloved Willy is hard enough,

but the fact the bar manager turned his back

on him when he so desperately needed help

is too much to bear.”

Says Rod: “Belinda asked the bar manager

why he didn’t ring an ambulance. He said, ‘I

don’t have to put up with listening to this

crap’ and walked off and left us.”

They’d always feared Massey’s booze

culture and hammered the safe-drinking

message to all three of their kids.

“You can tell them till you’re blue in the

face but teenagers are always going to do

silly things – and why shouldn’t they have a

bit of fun? – so there need to be safety nets

for them,” says Belinda.

The university’s community manager wrote

to the pub after Willy’s death, saying that while

students needed to take some responsibility

for their actions, they were aggressively

targeted, a lucrative market, and vulnerable

because they were inexperienced drinkers.

The Cranswicks have a box of cuttings of

ads by the Fitz and other pubs in the student

newspaper Chaff offering deals such as three

“Cruisers” for $10, $2 triples and $1 nips of

Jim Beam every Tuesday. Students were

bombarded by flyers in the mailbox, and

alcohol-branded material. “You are really

battling the liquor industry,” says Belinda,

“and it’s very powerful.”

Like Daniel Hansman, Willy Cranswick

was planning to cut down on his drinking.

Says Belinda: “He told his sister a week before

he died that he was getting sick of Palmerston

North and the pub scene. Alcohol was a

novelty in the first year but he was over it.”

After Willy’s death, alcohol was banned

from student hostels at Massey University

from Monday to Thursday. The Fitz closed

last December.

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Universities and Booze – D EATH BY D E g REES?
Universities
and Booze
– D EATH BY
D E g REES?

S enior research fellow Kyp

Kypri, an associate of Otago

University’s Injury

Prevention Research Unit,

probably knows more

about the drinking habits of

New Zealand university

students than anyone else.

For the past decade, his studies have

shown they’re drinking more hazardously

than their non-student peers – partly

because of the way they’re targeted by the

liquor industry.

In two papers published last year, he

reported how heavily student newspapers

relied on alcohol advertisements and how

the density of liquor outlets around

university campuses directly contributed

to alcohol problems.

In 2003, he revealed that students

dramatically over-estimate the drinking

levels of their peers, with more than 90 per

cent thinking others drank more than

them. In 2005, his survey of more than

2500 students from five universities found

that when students drank, most consumed

more than the recommended maximums

of four drinks for women and six for men.

“There is a risk for young people going

to a university away from their family,” he

“There is a risk for young people going to a university away from their family,” says researcher

Kyp Kypri. “The liquor industry doesn’t care about your kid. Your kid is a commercial opportunity for them. Their responsibility is to make a profit.”

says. “The liquor industry doesn’t care

about your kid. Your kid is a commercial

opportunity for them. Their responsibility

is to make a profit.”

Kypri, who is based at the University of

Newcastle in Australia, says first-year

students are of particular concern. “For

most of them, it’s their first time away

from home for an extended time and

they’re bombarded with alcohol marketing

and events that go along with it. It’s part of

the landscape and it would be nice to give

them a bit of space to adjust to quite a big

life transition before alcohol is thrown into

the mix with such vigour.”

The Law Commission’s issues paper

“soft-pedalled” on alcohol marketing and

advertising, suggesting the link between

promotion and consumption was complex

and “important commercial freedoms”

would need to be considered in any ban on

price advertising.

But Kypri believes when there’s a major

problem such as this, lawmakers should

adopt a precautionary approach and “seek

evidence from the proponents of the

activity that promoting alcohol is risk-free

and not place the burden of proof on the

community to show the risk of harm”.

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey

Palmer told North & South the issue of

alcohol and university students was

difficult to treat in isolation from the

country’s wider drinking culture. The

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liberal regulatory regime since 1989 had

meant that alcohol was treated as any

other commodity. “And if you put it with

the pumpkins in the supermarket you are

going to cause the expectation to arise that

it’s just like anything else. The underlying

problem is that drinking to intoxication

has become normalised. It’s seen as a

harmless form of entertainment when it’s

actually extremely dangerous, but the

health problems are not at all well known.

“The problem really is peer-group

pressure among a lot of young people.

It’s thought to be socially acceptable to get

drunk, to throw up and have your mate

take a picture and put it on Facebook.

When I went to university, it wasn’t

acceptable to be seen to be clearly drunk

and incapable. Now it’s cool to throw up,

it’s sort of a rite of passage. The question

I’m asking is, ‘Why is it cool to be drunk?’

And these [students] are supposed to be

the best and the brightest – hello?”

The commission’s proposals, particularly

to increase prices and raise the age at

which alcohol can be bought at off-

licences, should lower harm and

consumption, he says.

N ational Addiction Centre

director Doug Sellman

says students are largely

ignorant about the

dangers of booze. For

example, the lethal dose

of alcohol is 10 times the normal low

recreational dose of two to three drinks,

whereas it was almost impossible to take a

lethal dose of cannabis, which had a safety

ratio of more than 1000 times the

recreational dose.

University capping and orientation

weeks were “really fuelled by the

industry” with free products, sponsorship

and discounts. The industry spent about

$200,000 a day maintaining a heavy-

drinking culture. “Relentless drug-pushing

works.”

The best thing that parents could do

was to model responsible drinking before

their children left home, and to keep in

close contact with them, especially in the

first year.

He says that while the Law Commission

report had largely covered price, purchase

age, driving limits and opening-hour

restrictions, it was imperative alcohol

marketing and advertising be reduced. He

also favoured supermarkets becoming

alcohol free but the Law Commission said

“It’s thought to be socially acceptable to get drunk, to throw up and have your mate take a picture and put it on Facebook.

When I went to university, it wasn’t acceptable to be seen to be clearly drunk and

incapable. ”

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer

that was unlikely to be publicly acceptable.

There is evidence, though, that

universities and student associations are

beginning to respond to the problem.

Otago University’s council announced in

October that it would eliminate alcohol

advertising and sponsorship from

university grounds and at university

events or activities, wherever they were

held.

The industry’s response was

illuminating: a spokeswoman for Lion

Nathan, which makes Speight’s among

other brands, said it had five-year product

deals with the university and students

association and was “surprised and

disappointed” the university hadn’t

consulted it first. She said the company

could seek damages.

New Zealand University Students

Association co-president Sophia Blair says

there’s wide variation in policies among

campuses. Some associations have

advertising prohibition policies while

others have a bar on campus and are

willing to accept industry sponsorship of

events and advertising in student papers.

“A lot have moved towards reducing their

dependence on advertising or sponsorship

on campus because of issues around

student safety.”

Professor Barry Jackson, director of the

drug, alcohol and wellness network at

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania,

who’s here on sabbatical as an honorary

senior research fellow at Otago University

in Wellington, says American and New

Zealand societies are culturally quite

different in their attitudes to alcohol. For

example, 80 per cent of New Zealanders

drink compared with 60 per cent of

Americans, partly because the US legal

drinking age is 21. “Your young people

start drinking at a much higher rate much

earlier than ours.”

In Pennsylvania, his initiatives reduced

student consumption at Bloomsburg by 20

per cent over 15 years. They included

informing students about risks and

advising them and their parents before

admission about the institution’s

disciplinary policies. In most states in the

US, drinking violations at university meant

a student would not be permitted to work

in certain professions, including medicine,

nursing and dentistry – and such a move

could be investigated in New Zealand.

Asked what parents could do to protect

their children at university, he says: “I’m

asked this all the time and I have to say

there’s no silver bullet which is going to

kill the werewolf here. But the evidence in

the US shows parents do have an

influence. If the parent says, ‘I expect you

to go to college and not waste my money.

I expect you to study and not get drunk

every night of the week – this is not

tolerable in my household,’ the kids listen.”

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca

Williams, who co-ordinates the national

advisory group on tertiary student

drinking, says it is difficult to say which

Law Commission recommendations

would have saved the young men in North

& South’s story. “But the evidence is very

clear about what works to reduce harm,

and the relevant things in relation to

student drinking are the purchase age, the

price and accessibility to alcohol.

“Students are very price-sensitive and

we know pricing strategies really do limit

not only access but the amount they drink

on each occasion.”

She says universities, particularly Otago,

were taking alcohol issues very seriously,

and Victoria had also been active in

promoting safe drinking, warning students

of the risks with provocative postcards,

assessing risk and intervening to reduce

hazardous student drinking.

The commission report was only a range

of options. “We can twiddle around the

edges all we like but we have to do what

works.

“We have to make the transition from just

talking about this stuff and trying to be PC

about it all. We have to be brave.”

+

76

|

NORTH

&

SOUTH

|

january

2010