When it comes to drinking, teenagers are constantly in the firing line for irresponsible behaviour but is it them who are really to blame for the carnage alcohol causes? Carly Gibbs reports.
The man in Greerton Super Liquor is wearing an outlandish gold suit, a "bling" necklace, black sunglasses and is pursing his lips at a weedy cream-coloured chihuahua.
The dog too has a necklace and he's sitting on top of a box of alcohol.
The pair have pulled up in their limousine.
Is this how people "roll" in Tauranga?
Er, no. This is not a real scenario.
It's a poster depicting the bourbon and cola drink Cody's - a popular tipple with teens - and its target market is obvious.
Look around this store and it's colour overload. Bottles of all sizes and shapes are stacked on shelves. Some pink, some silver. A bottle of Snow Queen Vodka, showing a buxom woman in a sky-high tiara and tight-fitting gown sells for $62.99. It's a pretty bottle.
In fact, they're all pretty bottles but they are lethal weapons in the wrong hands.
Come here on a Wednesday at 10am and it's quiet. A man in a beat-up leather jacket, curly hair pulled into a low-slung ponytail, buys a six-pack of Victoria Bitter and a single can of what looks like bourbon. Outside his mate waits for him in a white car. Stereo pumping.
Doug Harvie has owned this store for 13 years and works out the back.
A grey TV plays security footage on top of an old filing cabinet. There are posters all over his walls. A young woman standing behind a polished motorbike is promoting Jim Beam. Then there are the posters for those with more expensive tastes - Mo�& Chandon. Opal Nera.
Harvie, with his chopper style moustache and slightly gruff voice, says he knows what people might say - that he's in the business of selling drugs.
Dig a little deeper though and you'll find this 57-year-old is a father of five and an advocate for change. He wants his business to be known as the hardest place in Tauranga for under-age drinkers to buy grog.
Harvie's tough line comes as the government considers the Alcohol Reform Bill, which introduces a split purchase age under which the minimum age for buying liquor at supermarkets and other off-licence shops would be increased from 18 years to 20. The age in pubs and other on-licensed premises would remain 18. The bill is in response to the Law Commission's 2010 report aimed at curbing the harm of alcohol.
"I don't think alcohol is the problem," he says with arms crossed. "I think alcohol makes the problem worse but there seems to be a lot of social policies that governments have introduced have made kids and the family unit a lot less respectful of law and order, of parents," Harvie says.
"The way teenagers get rat-faced, I don't believe they have much respect for themselves either."
Harvie says in his day, getting drunk was a consequence of having a good time.
"Nowadays, they seem they want to get drunk as soon as they go out and seem to think it's real cool to be spewing in the drain at 7pm rather than 1am."
And Harvie would know. He's got an eagle eye on all the boys and girls who enter his store. He says they like to drink cheap wine, Cody's and vodka because it has no taste and you can mix it with almost anything.
"Girls tend to skull a bottle of wine, under $10, 14 per cent, drink it by yourself. That's six and a half or seven standard drinks and if you drink it quickly you're off your face quickly.
"That to me is sad. That's where this lack of respect for themselves comes in. How can you respect yourself if you're off your brain?"
And what does getting off your brain do?
It causes teens to get aggressive, Harvie reckons. "In my day a 16-year-old would run a mile if a police car arrived. Today they want to take the police on, they want to throw bottles, it's just amazing."
The establishment of a Western Bay Off-Licence Alcohol Accord (OLAA) in September 2008, of which nearly all off-licensed premises in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty are voluntary members, has helped raise awareness around the issue of the supply of liquor to minors.
Harvie says if he suspects customers are buying liquor on behalf of teenagers, he asks them to fill out a form with their personal details and sign it, making them liable if they are caught.
"Parents are the worst. While they think their intentions are good to give little Mary a four-pack of RTDs, after that she's not the same Mary they know."
Harvie has a growing concern about how he is perceived in the community.
"It's becoming more and more socially unacceptable to be involved in retailing or anything to do with selling alcohol. You go out socially and people ask 'what do you for a job?' 'I sell alcohol', 'Oh drug pusher', they say."
Harvie says binge drinking is not unique to New Zealand and he can't see alcohol ever being banned.
So, what's the answer?
"Parents need to be role models not mates with their kids and continue to supervise them," he says. "It's like the whole hole in a condom theory, at what stage is the chemist responsible?"
Taking little responsibility for themselves are teens.
Seven 17-year-olds the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend interviewed with the protection of being given false names, were blase about getting drunk and more disturbingly blase about what they got up to while intoxicated. They giggled during a good part of the interview.
Shaun has given up heavy drinking because he was getting "wasted" and sleeping with girls he didn't know. He's now shacked up with an 18-year-old and has curbed his old ways.
Getting wasted caused him a little bit of grief but according to the girls, not as much as they get.
"Girls get way more judged," Anna, with blonde hair piled on top of her head, says. "If guys get drunk and do something stupid it's just funny."
Michael, slouched in his chair, agrees. "It's a scandal if a girl does something."
What are girls doing?
"I think some girls make it real easy for guys to get into them," Anna reports unashamedly.
She adds: "I don't reckon they get taken advantage of, they're just easier to persuade. It just makes it a lot easier for them to get them into bed. I've never thought I've been taken advantage of. I've never woken up and thought 'what a dick'. They don't have to make any effort."
Michael chips in with: "Alcohol does something to like boys' hormone levels, I think?"
"Yeah, it makes you horny," Anna says with a laugh.
Do reputations go away?
"It depends what you do. Like, if you sleep with a rank-as guy, you get dissed. Some people purposely spread rumours," Josh says.
"There's some bitchy stuff on Facebook, hell yeah. Girls gossip so bad."
For those who don't drink (that's two out of the seven I interviewed) both have their separate reasons.
Quietly spoken Sarah comes from a Christian family and says her parents are "real strict".
"My mum doesn't know that I've ever drunk and when I do, even if it's two, I get real hungover.
"She's anti-everything. She's been through it all before, 'I don't want you to go through it,' she says. Blah, blah. I never tell her about drinking stories or anything."
Tim doesn't drink because he prefers being the sober driver and says "the boys" respect him for it.
"I'm the same as Sarah, I've got crazy parents. They found out once that I'd got drunk and weren't happy."
Controlling a hangover in front of parents means "putting a good act on" or staying the night at a friend's place so they can sleep the next day.
The teens drink at house parties - often when parents are away - and drink Double Brown beer, vodka or RTDs. They say 18-year-olds buy it for them.
A good night out
One trend the teens have noticed is their peers are getting more violent at parties.
"It's dumb. If someone is looking at you wrong ...
"There's a lot of school type relation stuff. Rivalry between the schools."
On the whole though, alcohol generally equals a good night out and students - a selection of Year 10 to 13 - consume it most weekends.
"I love it when you have a good night and everyone is just way happier and way looser and everything goes to plan," Anna says.
"Exactly," says Toby. "It's just a party. I don't know why it's so bad."
Because the consequences of "good nights" often linger on.
Denise McEnteer, who has 25 years' experience working with sexual assault victims, is counselling an average of 18 Tauranga girls a week for both present and historical sexual abuse cases. Teenagers, aged 13-17, make up three quarters of her practice.
In her Norris St office, on soft blue chairs decorated with sequined cushions, she crosses her stocking-clad legs and says what she is seeing is getting worse and it's more sanctioned.
"Young women are now chasing young men. We now have an understanding with young women of 'why shouldn't I chase this young guy? Why shouldn't I get drunk and why shouldn't I have sex with him tonight, five minutes or half an hour after I've met him?'
"That's all normalised now and that's actually pretty frightening, I reckon. There's also a belief that if they have sex with this young man, they're going to catch the boyfriend but it doesn't work like that with our young men."
Talk to your sons and daughters
McEnteer urges all parents, even those who don't believe their child would ever drink, to think again. While most mums and dads are doing their "darndest" to keep their kids safe, the reality is, parents don't always know what their teenagers are getting up to.
She encourages parents to talk to their sons and daughters about how to develop functional, healthy relationships.
"We've got the technology to set what is a facade to say 'we're staying with a girl buddy', when actually, we're not. We're off to a party and then we'll stay wherever.
"They're coming to see me with physical assaults, sexual assaults, can't remember. They go to a party, wake up, can't find their clothes. That is happening exponentially now and there's been some very nasty stranger rapes resulting from intoxication of young women in Tauranga."
Many teens were also taking a cocktail of mind altering drugs but alcohol was the "worst demon".
Under-age drinkers try it on
Saturday night at super club Illuminati is the "big night".
Out on the town, bronzed girls in tight dresses stumble along in heels, while boys with the backs of their jeans hanging down roll out on to the street.
On an average Saturday there's 13 security staff on at Illuminati and seven bar staff.
Owners Glenn and Virginia Meikle, who also own Brewers Bar and Super Liquor in Mount Maunganui, say under-age drinkers "try it on" all the time.
"There's a lot of fake IDs and it's really hard to know," Virginia, 43, says. "Some of them are so good."
About 1000 party people enter Illuminati on a Saturday and 90 per cent are aged 18 to 25.
Virginia says if parents are concerned about their children aged under 18 getting in, they should feel free to call them.
"By all means, give us a ring, give us their picture. We can have a file at the door, you know? We would like that. I've said to Glenn, if we do have 16-year-olds picked up at the door, I'd like to ring their parents because do they realise this?"
Glenn, 40, has had a parent ring him at 8am on Sunday "livid" because her 16-year-old daughter had managed to slip into Illuminati with a fake ID.
"We tracked her down eventually ... she was 17 or something."
As parents of two teenagers, the Meikles say they worry just as much as the next parent.
"Our daughter is 15 and if she wants to go out and stay with a friend we will ring the parent. If she's going to a party she has to be chaperoned by either us or another parent," Virginia says.
The couple believes if council were to ever give clubs at 1am closing as opposed to the current law of 3am, there'd be chaos on the streets with young people not ready to wind down for the night.
"At the moment it's licensed, protected, managed."
Turned away for being too intoxicated
Grumpy Mole business manager Anita Duncan says on an average Saturday about 40 people are turned away for being too intoxicated and inside staff have come down harder on younger drinkers and watch them "like children".
A 30-year-old woman from Brookfield, who spoke on the condition she was not named, says a fortnight ago she and a friend had been at a pub in Rotorua and were waiting for a taxi when they saw a drunk 16-year-old girl standing at the door who could hardly stand.
Author and clinical leader of Relationship Services Whakawhanaungatanga Bay of Plenty/Gisborne area, Les Simmonds, explains some of the reasons teenagers drink in his book Raising Teens Today, which he co-wrote with psychologist Ian Lambie.
Simmonds says children try alcohol for the same experimental reason Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest. "Because it's there and they want to knock the bastard off."
Other factors he says are peer pressure and emotional problems.
It happens every weekend
Get Smart Tauranga Drug and Alcohol Services manager Stuart Caldwell says the organisation is counselling at five local secondary schools on a weekly basis. In the past 12 months they have gone from one to two fulltime counsellors and those counsellors now both have waiting lists.
Caldwell tells how Get Smart's Street Help Van team came across a very drunk teenage girl in the CBD.
"She was so drunk, it took our team 10 minutes to get her name and another 10 minutes to get her address.
"During this time three unrelated males came past and offered to take her home.
"This type of situation happens every weekend," he says.
Get Smart's Street Help Van has been taking drunk teens home or to hospital on Friday and Saturday nights for 20 years.
A fortnight ago, an out-of-control 16th birthday party at Tauranga Racecourse was broken up by police and 12 teens arrested.
Western Bay of Plenty Police area commander Mike Clement says it's excessive drinking that's causing the problem, especially when mixed with synthetic drugs like Kronic.
Clement says dance parties are becoming increasingly popular and nine months ago he had 15 and 16-year-olds literally vomiting at his feet at a dance party in Te Puke. Clement says he's often accused of being "the party police" but parents and schools have a responsibility to push a zero-tolerance message for alcohol, especially around ball season.
Alcohol free activities
Last week St Kentigern College had sniffer dogs, a breathalyser and had security pat down students at its ball.
The heightened measures follow the death of King's College student David Gaynor. Last year 16-year-old King's pupil James Webster died from alcohol poisoning.
Tauranga Safe City runs the Sexual Assault Primary Prevention campaign in secondary schools.
They are looking to become part of a youth development group where youth co-ordinate alcohol free activities.
The Government now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put serious roadblocks into the binge drinking carnage.
In Get Smart's opinion, this would be best answered with four measures: Introducing a minimum price per standard drink; restoring supermarkets to alcohol-free; banning all broadcast alcohol advertising and sponsorship and end legal drunk driving by reducing the blood alcohol content for adult driving from .08 to .05 or lower.
In 2005, liver cancer was the world's third most common cause of cancer deaths. British psychologist and biologist Aric Sigman says New Zealand would benefit from a drinking age of 21, even if it was difficult to enforce.
It was best if a person did not drink until at least 24-and-a-half because the brain does not fully develop until nearly 25. '
For many teenagers though, the message of "responsible drinking" is one that may never fully sink in.
This weekend, there's bound to be a party somewhere.
Bound to be underage drinkers. Bound to be a night they'll forget.
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