Alcohol is now so cheap that it costs less per drink than bottled water and only slightly more than milk, new research shows.

Researchers from Otago University’s Wellington campus are urging the Government to reconsider its decision not to raise tax on alcohol, as recommended by a major Law Commission report.

Justice Minister Simon Power said the study’s results were concerning but the Government still believed its alcohol reform package “strikes the right balance”.

Public Health Associate Professor Nick Wilson and fellow researcher Fiona Gunasekara found cask wine readily for sale at 62 cents per standard drink, beer at 64c and bottled wine at 65c. That was cheaper than bottled water – at 67 cents per 250ml – and not much more than a 250ml glass of milk, at 43 cents.

Although the latest consumer price index results for wine, beer and spirits were higher than the researchers’ results, the study showed consumers could easily buy alcohol at “way below” the average national price, they said. “Our analysis suggests alcohol is now probably the cheapest recreational drug in New Zealand and has become increasingly affordable, at the same time as concern about binge-drinking culture has grown,” Dr Wilson said.

Their research – published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal – also showed that although the average shelf price of alcohol had risen between 1999 and 2009, it had become more affordable compared with the average wage.

In 1999, it took 21 minutes for a worker on the average wage to pay for enough beer to reach the legal driving limit. In 2009, it took 17 minutes. It took just seven minutes of work to pay for enough cask wine to reach the same level.

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