Cut in alcohol duty raises student binge drinking concerns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2007, 12:00am

Binge drinking among university students could become even more of a problem because of the cut in tax on alcohol, an academic has warned.

Sian Griffiths, professor and director of Chinese University's public health school, gave the warning after preliminary results of a three-year study showed a rising trend in binge drinking among male and female university students.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming at least five drinks in a row in a session in the past month.

Professor Griffiths said the study showed there was a significant rise in both men and women who were inexperienced drinkers, who usually start to drink more at university.

'You also get more people binge drinking and more weekly drinking. So you start to get the seeds of more alcohol-related problems,' she said.

Students mainly drink beer, with increased preference for wine and spirits in their second year at university. They drink for celebration, to relieve stress and to enjoy themselves.

Among binge drinkers, 'there is social positive affirmation that use of alcohol is a good thing', she said.

More second-year university students use alcohol to cope with stress, but there is little change in their smoking habits as they advance through college. Professor Griffiths said the findings point to 'an incipient alcohol problem'. 'The tendency in Hong Kong is to say that alcohol is not a problem. We say, well, might you not see a western pattern of drinking alcohol as you get globalised cultures?'

Professor Griffiths said the particular relevance of the study was that 'if you decrease alcohol tax, make alcohol cheaper, what would this mean for these young people?'

In the latest budget, the duty on wine was cut from 80 per cent to 40 per cent, while the tax on beer was cut from 40 per cent to 20 per cent. Duty on spirits was unchanged.

The next phase of the study, to be conducted next year, is to investigate if drinking is doing any long-term harm, and the impact of making alcohol cheaper.

Professor Griffiths' team handed out questionnaires to all first-year students at Chinese University. Second-year students from one of the four colleges were given the same questionnaire a year later.

'It is a smaller sub-sample, but you could compare it statistically and you see a changing pattern,' she said.

The preliminary results of the three-year study were presented at last week's Asia-Pacific Conference on Healthy Universities hosted at the Chinese University's public health school.

The findings suggest that alcohol intervention should begin with first-year students, and should include screening for alcohol-related problems.