13 Apr 2015

Health groups criticise bar-tab student card

10:26 am on 13 April 2015

A loyalty card that offers to put some of a bar tab towards paying a customer's student loan is being criticised for encouraging drinking and exploiting students.

The Feejoa card's partner businesses will pay up to 5 percent of the amount a user spends at their premises towards that person's student loan.

So far, eight bars throughout the country and Warehouse Stationery have signed up to the scheme.


Photo: 123rf

The National Addiction Centre said it was astounded by the scheme, which it compared to a casino offering a five percent reward for gamblers in debt.

Doug Sellman, director of Otago University's National Addiction Centre, said the scheme promoted alcohol as a necessity, and would only encourage young people to drink more.

"I don't think they've really thought through how this kind of quite cunning marketing ploy will encourage students to drink alcohol," he told Morning Report.

Professor Sellman said the scheme was akin to a casino offering a 5 percent reward for gamblers in debt.

It would be better for students to save the money and pay off their loans with that, he said.

Alcohol Healthwatch health promotions adviser Christine Rogan said the scheme exploited students.

"It just seems really ironic that it's a whole bunch of bars that are the first cabs off the rank, if you like," she said.

"Guess what? They're targeting students because they're known to drink at levels that are harmful."

But a founder of the scheme, Phil O'Reilly, said that was not the case.

"All rewards programmes at bars is to reward drinking with more drinks," he said.

"Ours doesn't do that. It actually gives you money to pay off your student loan. So it's actually quite healthy. In fact it's very constructive."

Mr O'Reilly said more than 1000 people had signed up, and modest payments had already been made towards some people's debt.

He intended bringing in other companies such as food and travel firms.

A university students' association disputed whether the customer loyalty card would encourage students to drink more alcohol.

Auckland University Students' Association president Paul Smith, said it was too early to pass judgment on the scheme.

"It might change which bar you choose to go to for a quiet drink - that makes a lot of sense - but I don't see people buying more alcohol as a result of it."