Teenage access to alcohol too easy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong makes plain to teenagers that taking drugs is unacceptable through random testing in some high schools and public campaigns. The message that smoking is harmful is sent out clearly through the restriction on the sale of cigarettes to those aged 18 and over and the high taxes levied on them. But we are failing when it comes to alcohol, with laws preventing its sale in restaurants and bars but none applying to its purchase in supermarkets and convenience stores. Our children's well-being is needlessly put at risk by the lack of regulation.

The teenage years are trying ones, with hormones, peer and parental pressure converging to make life confusing. We need to give young people picking the way from childhood to adulthood direction, increasing freedom and room to grow. Parents have a crucial role to play by giving advice learned from experience and setting an example. When they are not around and there is a chance for youthful exuberance to go too far, society has to step in. One such occasion is when teenagers feel peer pressure to drink alcohol. Studies show that teenagers are drinking more and at a younger age than ever before. It is a global trend, but one exacerbated in Hong Kong by easy availability. Underage drinkers are easily spotted in entertainment areas - they are banned from bars, so congregate, drinks in hand, on pavements and outside convenience stores.

Some shop owners voluntarily refuse to sell alcohol to minors, but the practice is not sufficiently widespread to prevent the emergence of the youth drinking culture that has taken root in Australia and Britain, to name just two places. The risks of alcohol abuse are well known: it has health effects and personal and social consequences. Parents are the first line of defence and should make plain the dangers of drinking too soon and too much. Tougher laws that apply the same rules for restaurants and bars to shops will not stop teenage alcohol abuse, but will go a way to keeping a lid on the bottle.