Prohibition: is it working in New Caledonia?

Earlier this month, the laws forbidding the sale of alcohol here in New Caledonia (specifically in Nouméa, Mont-Dore, Dumbéa and Paita) were expanded to include Wednesday afternoons. In theory, this is to cut down on the sale of alcohol to minors (who do not attend school on Wednesday afternoons, and are thus much more likely, it is thought, to buy alcohol). Never mind that it is already illegal to sell alcohol to minors. Let’s make sure no one can buy alcohol.

Thus, it is now forbidden to sell alcohol on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 12pm and 9pm. It is also forbidden to sell alcohol on holidays (no matter what day of the week that falls on), and in some places, the day before the holiday. So that leaves Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and every morning, it appears, if you’d like to purchase a six-pack.

Guess what. People are getting creative.

This rule applies to grocery stores, but not to wine stores (so buy wine). This rules does not apply in hotels or restaurants. It also does not apply in the new bar on the Baie des Citrons that is purported to be giving alcohol away for all-night happy hours. Funny, that.

And now the question is does it apply to a new start-up here (Allo apéro) that claims it will deliver alcohol to your door any time of day or night (for 30% above the listed price), at the drop of a call. Two young 20-somethings have imported the idea from France and are looking to skirt (flaunt?) local bans. Something tells me they will be shut down before they open their doors. But they report that they have contacted all the right authorities and have received all the right approvals. So maybe soon they’ll be delivering alcohol door to door, exploiting those who do not or can not stock up in advance.

I was amused (and slightly horrified) to see that when the Wednesday ban was announced a few weeks ago, the local newspaper went under cover and sent a 15-year-old beer shopping in downtown Nouméa. Surprise of surprise, the young man purchased 12 beers of 33 cl and 2 beers of 50 cl in 5 different stores in 1.5 hours. On a Wednesday afternoon, of course.

Though stores face fines of 895,000 CFP (7,500 €) for a first-time offense and 1,790,000 CFP (15,000 €) and a year in prison for selling to minors, they appear ready to take that risk. I wonder what the fine is for selling alcohol to adults on a Wednesday afternoon. (Let me just say here that I am not a big alcohol lover. I am a big lover, however, of efficiency and logic. I am big on what works and question policies that support or encourage that which does not work.)

But if you didn’t know it, you should. Alcohol is a real problem in New Caledonia. It is involved in 62% of this year’s road fatalities. Startlingly, 16% of drinkers who get back behind the wheel of a car here have had 25 standard glasses of alcohol.

Some 53% of boys and 40% of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 say they’ve had at least 5 glasses (the definition of heavy drinking) in 1 evening in the last month.  Of the 16-25 year-olds that participated in an Inserm study, 52% reported having been drunk during the last month, and of those, 34% several times.

And not only are they drinking often and much, they’re starting young – in 2010, 7.4% of respondents said they started between the ages of 12 and 14; 31.2% between 12 and 16 years; and 66% between 16 and 20.

So I understand wanting to tackle the youth drinking problem, and drunk driving, as soon as possible. I am fully behind that and think that if we can manage this one problem, we’ll go a long way towards securing the island’s future (kids might stay in school longer, might envision a brighter future, might secure better jobs, etc. – but I might be naive thinking this way).

I am just not convinced that unenforced laws and bans are the answer. That which we forbid becomes all the more tempting (as every parent knows), and renders humans all the more creative in finding ways to secure the forbidden.

I think a smarter way around this is on the one hand, to stop sales to minors (heavy sanctions on stores, inspections, etc.) and on the other to step up awareness-raising campaigns in schools, homes and communities; use emotional media campaigns to impress upon our youth the risks and dangers involved in drinking (and driving); involve youth (and adults) in identifying and implementing ideas to curb alcohol consumption (“own the process”); and involve our youth in gainful work, sports, music and arts programmes, and apprenticeship/mentoring programmes.

For I think, fundamentally, that alcohol is the symptom of a much bigger problem …

But no one asked me.


4 thoughts on “Prohibition: is it working in New Caledonia?

  1. Thanks again for your post. Having been in Noumea in August I certainy saw the problem with the older people…opposite Carrefour…and for young people here in Australia binge drinking is a problem. When I visit Noumea next time I will be sure to check the sales times…I so enjoy my glasses of wine after a tough morning at CREIPAC! Louise

  2. Let me know when next you’re back, Louise! I’d love to hear more about your observations of Nouméa and its life. An “outsider’s” view is often among the most interesting!

  3. Pingback: Drugs in New Caledonia? Try cocaine in the mail … | New Caledonia Today

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