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Alcohol exposure in NZ supermarkets 'like advertising candy' to children, researcher says

There's room for improvement in how alcohol is sold in New Zealand's supermarkets, including potentially moving wine and beer away from busy areas, Victoria University research suggests.

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Dr Karen McBride-Henry told Breakfast the way alcohol is sold in supermarkets could have a major impact on New Zealand's drinking. Source: Breakfast

It's been 31 years since wine and beer were first permitted for sale in New Zealand's supermarkets and at the time, misgivings about such a significant increase in the number of alcohol outlets were assuaged by strong guarantees that supermarkets would follow strict guidelines. 

A new study led by Dr Karen McBride-Henry, director of the university's health services research centre, investigated supermarket compliance with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012. 

While the supermarkets mostly followed the letter of the law, they didn't appear to be following the spirit, Dr McBridge-Henry says.

"I think anyone who's vulnerable to being susceptible to the marketing of alcohol is significantly impacted by this level of exposure," she told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

She highlighted the visibility of alcohol in busy areas of the supermarket - namely, walking into the store and heading towards the checkout.

At times, the alcohol aisle is the second aisle into the supermarket.

Dr McBridge-Henry says it's a "really major issue for our children".

"Children grow up seeing it offered every Friday, every Saturday, samples being given to adults," she says.

"They get told, 'You're not allowed this but just wait until you're 18 and you can join us.' 

"It's a bit like advertising of candy, essentially."

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Overseas research has shown childhood exposure increases the risk of someone abusing alcohol in life, while in New Zealand 20 per cent of alcohol is drunk at hazardous levels, Dr McBridge-Henry says.

"A third of that 20 per cent start in their teenage years."

Tightening the rules around things like free samples, as well as restricting sale of alcohol during family-friendly times, could make a difference, Dr McBridge-Henry suggests.

"There was one that actually worked to shield off the area and that was the one store in the audit we did that demonstrated slightly less exposure to alcohol."

The research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health today.