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A qualitative investigation into key cultural factors that support abstinence or responsible drinking amongst some Pacific youth living in New Zealand

Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni2*, Kathleen Seataoai Samu1, Lucy Dunbar1, Justin Pulford1 and Amanda Wheeler1

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Research and Resource Centre, Waitemata District Health Board, Level 3, Snelgar Building, Private Bag 93115, Henderson, Waitakere, 0650, New Zealand

2 Vaaomanu Pasifika Unit, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

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Harm Reduction Journal 2012, 9:36  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-9-36

Published: 16 August 2012



Abstinence and responsible drinking are not typically associated with youth drinking culture. Amongst Pacific youth in New Zealand there are high numbers, compared to the general New Zealand population, who choose not to consume alcohol. The Pacific youth population is made up of several ethnic groups; their ethno-cultural values are largely Polynesian and heavily influenced by the socio-economic realities of living in New Zealand. This paper explores factors that support abstinence or responsible drinking amongst Pacific youth living in Auckland.


A qualitative study comprised of a series of ethnically-, age-, and gender-matched semi-structured focus group discussions with 69 Pacific youth, aged 15-25 years from a university and selected high-schools. Participants were purposively sampled.


Key cultural factors that contributed to whether Pacific youth participants were abstinent or responsible drinkers were: significant experiences within Pacific family environments (e.g. young person directly links their decision about alcohol consumption to a positive or negative role model); awareness of the belief that their actions as children of Pacific parents affects the reputation and standing of their Pacific family and community (e.g. church); awareness of traditional Pacific values of respect, reciprocity and cultural taboos (e.g. male–female socialising); commitment to no-alcohol teachings of church or religious faith; having peer support and experiences that force them to consider negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption; and personal awareness that being part of an (excessive) drinking culture may seriously affect health or impede career aspirations.


The narratives offered by Pacific young people highlighted three key communities of influence: family (immediate and extended, but especially siblings), peers and church. Young people negotiated through these communities of influence their decisions whether to drink alcohol, drink excessively or not at all. For each young person the way in which those three communities came together to support their decisions depended on the specificities of their lived contexts. Pacific young people live lives that share some things in common with other New Zealand youth and others which are more specific to a Pacific ethnic group, especially in relation to the traditional beliefs of their Pacific parents and community. In the development of alcohol harm reduction strategies seeking active Pacific young person and family compliance, it is these “other ethnic things” that requires careful and more qualitative consideration.

Pacific peoples; Alcohol; Youth; Risk; Drinking