Low alcohol beer can reduce harm

Low alcohol beer can reduce harm

FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich
FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich

Many New Zealanders say harm caused by alcohol can be reduced if more people drink low-alcohol beer, a recent survey shows. The Horizon survey of 1141 New Zealanders, published by the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (FGC), found that almost half of respondents thought increased consumption of low-alcohol beer would bring significant public health benefits.

These included a reduction in overall alcohol consumption (41%), reduced public disorder (47%) and lower rates of drink-driving (43%).

FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich says that though New Zealand beer drinkers have been relatively slow to try low-alcohol beer, there are ways to encourage more to make the switch. “At around 4% of total beer, the consumption of low-alcohol beer in New Zealand is low compared with Australia, where it comprises 20%.

“Consumption has lifted in recent years, especially with the new drink-driving laws, and there’s clearly an opportunity to encourage more drinkers to switch from fuller-strength beer to low-alcohol alternatives.

“There’s long been a perception out there that you can’t have a tasty beer if it’s low in alcohol, but that’s changing. Contrast that with 10 years ago when low-alcohol beers were even the butt of jokes – when many people wouldn’t be seen dead with a low-alcohol beer. It’s completely different now and they’re well accepted as another option.

“The brewing industry has made significant progress on improving the taste and range of these beers, and it needs to look at how it can further stimulate more innovation in brewing.

“There are now many really good low-alcohol beers on the market that have just as much taste as fuller-strength beers.

“There’s no doubt that low-alcohol beer plays an important role in achieving moderation in alcohol consumption. If the Government’s aim is to reduce harm in the community then it makes sense it could look at low-alcohol beers attracting a much lower tax than full-strength beer.

“Many people don’t appreciate just how high the tax on low-alcohol beer is. It’s way out of alignment with taxes in Australia and the UK.

“Excise taxes are big revenue earners for governments so I doubt there’s much appetite for change. But when it’s nigh on impossible to over-consume low-alcohol beers to the point of drunkenness, it’s hard to justify the levying of such high taxes on them.

“While following this issue over the past 10 or so years, I’ve never heard of a single case of harm caused by low-alcohol beer. Reducing the tax will encourage more brewers to develop new offerings.”

Low alcohol beer survey: Key points

  • 62% believe people drink low alcohol beer to be able to drive under the lower drink-drive limit.
  • 60% believe people drink low-alcohol beer because they don’t want to get drunk.
  • Taste (38%), cost (19%) and limited range (16%) are the main reasons why people don’t drink more low-alcohol beer.
  • 38% say more people would drink more low-alcohol beer if there were more options (brands, styles and flavours) available.
  • 58% say more people would drink low-alcohol beer if it was cheaper than full-strength beer.
  • 61% of people believe a lower tax rate on low-alcohol beer would encourage more consumption.
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