The Salvation Army's Alcohol Project

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The use and misuse of liquor has an important place in the credos of The Salvation Army. The Army is well known as a teetotal organisation and its history is rich in dissent against society’s prevailing views on alcohol. The Army’s stance toward liquor has however changed somewhat over its 127 year history in New Zealand. Originally The Army saw liquor in moralistic terms – that its consumption was sinful and those who imbibed were morally weak. Such views were not of course unique a century ago at the height of the prohibition movement which embraced both women’s organisations and other churches as well as The Salvation Army.

While abstinence from consumption of alcohol and drugs remains an important tenet of Salvation Army doctrine, The Army’s overall view of alcohol in society has changed considerably. The Army sees the consumption of alcohol as a matter of individual choice but it does not believe that liquor has a benign influence within any society. This view is borne out by the damage of alcohol which The Army sees through its addiction treatment centres and community ministries on a daily basis.

The Salvation Army’s stance on alcohol has motivated its involvement in the current review of liquor laws which is has been initiated by the Law Commission and most likely will extend into Parliamentary activity in the second half of 2010. This involvement is being led by the Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit (SPPU) which is undertaking research and preparing a number of background papers, submissions and resource materials. This activity is wrapped up as an overall project which is focused on challenging the prevailing social and political views around alcohol with the ambition of changing liquor related policies as well as New Zealanders’ perceptions of and attitudes toward alcohol.

In the current policy framework liquor is seen as a regulatory rather than a public health issue. This regulatory focus is perhaps derived from an individual rights paradigm where an individual personal freedom to consume liquor is matched by their obligation to cause no harm to others and where the rights to make and sell liquor are private property rights which are subject to as little interference from the State as possible. Such a paradigm ignores the social context in which alcohol is presented and sold, especially to young people, and it ignores the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol use and the risk from addiction in such use. These effects cause tangible and demonstrable harm to alcohol users and to their families and communities which no sanctions to ensure personal responsibility can undo or to date have been able to prevent.

The Salvation Army believes that the sale and consumption of liquor is a matter of social responsibility and social risk and so the control of this sale and consumption is about the mediation of social as well as personal rights. Communities have, for example, the right to be protected from the harm which alcohol already causes and communities have a right to make considered choices around the balance between personal freedoms and acceptable levels of social risk.

In its alcohol project SPPU and the leadership of The Salvation Army hope to shift the balance in New Zealand’s the mindset around liquor away from the current focus of regulating what may be seen as aberrant behaviours of individuals toward one of creating safe and healthy environments where alcohol related harm is negligible.

To achieve this ambition the Army’s alcohol project will produce a number of discussion papers, research reports, policy papers and community resources which are aimed at a wide audience. This work includes the following elements:

Excising Excess

Excising Excess is a policy paper prepared and published by SPPU in November 2009 which examines the case for an increase in excise taxes on alcohol. This paper draws on extensive international experience and literature on the use of taxation to reduce alcohol related harm and examines the likely demand impacts of increasing and changing the taxation of liquor in New Zealand. The report recommends the simplification of the current tax regime and an overall increase of 25% in tax rates and estimates that this may result in a 10% reduction in alcohol related harm.

A Contest of Spirits

A Contest of Spirits provides a brief history of The Salvation Army’s changing philosophy on alcohol and the activism and service provision which went with these changes. This paper is written for an audience within The Army and is intended to assist Salvationists to understand their history and to consider ways in which the organisation may renew its opposition to alcohol in ways which are more relevant to 21st Century Kiwi life. The suggested change of focus is toward a public health approach which is based around notions of the common good and ecological models of environment, systems thinking and inter-relatedness

Triggers and Influences of Drinking Behaviours

Triggers and Influences of Drinking Behaviours is the working title for a research project which is looking at the alcohol related experiences of people with alcohol or drug dependency. This research project is based around 20 focus groups which have involved 130 people who have attended drug and alcohol addiction treatment programmes run by The Salvation Army through its Bridge programmes. As well as asking participants about the factors which contributed to their drinking behaviours they were also asked about possible policy responses which might reduce the risks and harms around alcohol use. The research has largely confirmed international experience on the triggers and influences around alcohol misuse. The research report will be released in April 2010.

Community Resource Kit

A community resource kit is being planned for release in mid 2010. This kit will include an ideas paper or discussion paper which will attempt to broaden the public’s perspective on alcohol and hopefully begin to extend the public debate beyond the question of rules and regulation which SPPU expect the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s work will become. This kit will also include resources to assist communities to consider the place of alcohol in their community life and to enable them to participate in submission processes around liquor law changes.

The Salvation Army through SPPU has already made extensive submissions to the Law Commission on its discussion documents on liquor law reform and The Army will be an active participant in further submission processes to parliament and local councils.