NZ Herald, New Zealand; 22-02-2024; By Ben Tomsett

Liquor companies have been giving university students free booze in exchange for shout-outs on social media, raising concerns with police and uni bosses. Encouraging social media posts of alcoholic beverages in exchange for branded merchandise, emblazoning a Castle St flat with logos, handing out sample drinks at Tent City, and breaching liquor laws by supplying a flat with 100 bottles of free booze are just some of the tactics employed by alcohol companies to target students. Police are currently investigating alcohol company BEE after about 100 1.25l bottles of BEE Alcoholic Lemonade were allegedly supplied to a Castle St flat as sponsorship for a party they were hosting

Alcohol company BEE allegedly gave more than 110 litres of free booze to a student party on Castle St, Dunedin.

Senior Sergeant Anthony Bond of Dunedin Police said it was in breach of Section 237 of the Sale and Supply Alcohol Act, in that the supplying of free alcohol as sponsorship is deemed as irresponsible. Dunedin Police have concerns about the supplying of free alcohol to the vulnerable student community and the Alcohol Harm reduction officer will follow up with the company involved,” he said.

At Tent City temporary set up on the Otago Museum Reserve, which is intended for local companies to connect with new students, RTD brand Major Major was seen to be giving free 30ml samples to students from as early as 10.30am, as well as posters.

Otago University Students Association (OUSA) chief executive officer Debbie Downs said the decision to give the free samples was made based on incorrect advice received from DCC licensing, indicating that a special licence was not required for the taster samples and noting that such tasters did not drive sales on site. “Major Major was given approval off the original DCC advisement and has since discontinued offering taster samples,” she said.

“Major Major’s presence at Tent City is in line with the nature of the event, which hosts commercial businesses, including bars and licensed premises, as per previous years.” Some student flats have created joint social media accounts, where they post images and videos while tagging alcohol companies, which the Herald understands is in exchange for merchandise. University of Otago proctor Dave Scott said there had been a noticed increase in aggressive marketing by alcohol companies in North Dunedin, the city’s primary student quarter. “We have noticed an increase in alcohol companies aggressively marketing in North Dunedin. We will continue to do all that is in our power to work with our community partners to keep students and the wider community safe.” Elsewhere on Castle St, on the corner of Howe St, a flat has been painted in branding for the drink Hyoketsu, owned by Kirin, suggesting a cash payment for becoming the Hyoketsu hand model.

A building on the corner of Castle and Howe streets has been made over to promote a ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverage. Photo / Ben Tomsett

Scott said police had been notified and would consider the branding of the flat under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

University of Canterbury senior lecturer with the Faculty of Health Dr Sandy Richardson said alcohol was a dangerous commodity, and marketing it towards vulnerable populations in a way that takes advantage of them could be an abuse of power.

She said the companies involved were making their products highly desirable and presenting them in a way that could make them even more desirable by offering incentives and inducements. “When we look at things from a research perspective, from an ethics perspective, nobody is supposed to offer incentives and inducements that would encourage someone to do something that they might otherwise think twice about. It seems to me that that is what is happening,” she said. “It’s obviously a very savvy process, utilising students essentially to do the marketing for them on social media. Someone knows what they’re doing, someone has looked at what’s the best way of getting around regulations about not advertising and not advertising in certain ways.” 

Both Major Major owner Asahi and BEE Alcoholic Lemonade owner BEE did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment.

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