It will be well into next year before MPs have to make up their mind about whether to change the purchasing age for alcohol.
The Alcohol Reform Bill, which passed its first reading in Parliament on Thursday by 114 votes to three, seeks to better control the granting of liquor licences, make it harder to provide alcohol to minors, and limit the strength of pre-mixed drinks.
The bill now goes to a select committee for public submissions, after a comprehensive review of alcohol laws by the Law Commission.
Under the bill, 18-year-olds would still be able to purchase alcohol at bars and restaurants but would have to wait until they were 20 to buy at supermarkets and other retailers.
The ACT Party, which was divided on the legislation, cast the only votes against it. Leader Rodney Hide and deputy John Boscawen voted with the National Party, while the remaining three MPs opposed the bill.
A conscience vote on the purchasing age will be held when the bill returns to the House sometime next year.