People often do and say silly things where alcohol is involved. I’m not meaning just those who may consume too much of it, rather those who try to make it as difficult as possible for reasonable New Zealanders who want to supply or purchase beer and wine from a supermarket.

Early last century when there were bids to extend hotel closing hours past 6pm, those opposed claimed that to do so would result in widespread drunkenness and chaos in the streets. History shows that when the law was finally changed to 10pm in 1967 the sky didn’t fall, with various studies showing consumption per capita actually declined slightly. It has been argued we became more civilised in our drinking habits as a result.

In 1989 and again in 1999, there were all sorts of dire claims when, following a review of alcohol laws, supermarkets, dairies and convenience stores were firstly permitted to sell wine, and then beer. Probably the most extreme came from one Member of Parliament, who said during a debate that there would be drunken housewives in the carpark as a result of the change! The drunken housewives have yet to eventuate.

In 2011 things got more extreme when, during a hearing for a wine and beer licence for a new supermarket in Christchurch, an anti-alcohol activist likened the store owner to a drug dealer. He said: “… given that alcohol is a Class B equivalent drug, a new liquor licence would therefore elevate the new manager … to being the biggest drug dealer in Ilam”.

He was talking about a family man with four children who had worked his way up from stocking shelves in his father’s supermarket, to owning his own.

The activist went on to say that “although disguised as a large family-friendly grocery store, supermarkets are in fact primarily mega-liquor stores which also sell grocery items” and “are probably the single biggest drug dealers in New Zealand”. More recently he said “the New Zealand population has been brainwashed and in the grips of a mass social delusion”. Heavy stuff.

That’s the sort of extreme thinking that law-abiding suppliers and retailers have to put up with for marketing and selling a legal product.

More recently there’s been the Police crackdown on licence renewals in Wellington bowling clubs, many of which offer a comfortable place for (mainly) older people to gather for a bit of recreation. It was admitted that none of the clubs had been breaking any laws, rather it was about their hours of operation.

These are the sort of petty crusades we have to put up with when officialdom relies on technicalities and forgets simple common sense.

If all that wasn’t concerning, common sense was very definitely absent when MidCentral District Health Board decided to spend upwards of $90,000 appealing to the High Court over the placement of beer and wines shelves in the Dannevirke New World.

Their licence application for the wine and beer section showed shelving at right angles to the aisle where shoppers walked past, but they were changed to be placed on an angle. The commission decided the angle of the shelves made “little or no difference” to the exposure of shoppers to alcohol and were not in breach of the Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act. The Police and the local council had no issues with it, and there were no complaints from the public.

But it was all too much for the Medical Officer of Health, who objected and then went on a crusade, appealing to the High Court, saying the angled shelves increased, “rather than minimised”, the exposure of alcohol products to shoppers passing by.

They even involved eight other DHBs to help fund the appeal on what they saw as a matter of “national significance’.

It beggars belief how the angle of shelves could ever become a health issue of such significance, and goes to show that despite living in so-called enlightened times, there are some attitudes that never seem to change.

Author: Katherine Rich

(Originally published in Supermarket News)

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