Age restrictions should be placed on purchase of alcohol

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 6:41am

Every society has its rules on the minimum age for driving a car, buying cigarettes and alcohol consumption. Hong Kong's laws are hard and fast when it comes to cars and tobacco, but are wanting when it comes to underage drinking. The number of teenagers imbibing, sometimes to the point of intoxication, at convenience stores and in entertainment areas says all about where the shortcomings are. Young people are our future and we should be educating and protecting them.

Under-18s are not allowed to drink alcohol in places that have liquor licences, clubs, bars and restaurants among them. This is a ypical regulation in many other parts of the world, although in the US and some other countries, the age limit is 21. Hong Kong differs markedly, though, in that it does not also restrict the sale of alcohol to minors, as it does with tobacco products. The result is that a child can buy beer, wine and spirits and then drink them at will.

That means good business for convenience stores that open in districts like Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai. It also allows of-age bar patrons to buy drinks for younger friends, who can then stand outside and drink them. This is perfectly legal; no laws regulate the drinking habits of under-18s or the consumption of alcohol in public (beyond being drunk and disorderly). Only stores with a social conscience and parents and teachers who make an effort to guide children stand in the way.

There is a wealth of medical evidence showing that underage drinking can cause irreversible changes to the nervous system, while excessive consumption can lead to liver and heart problems and memory loss. Few in-depth studies have been done locally into underage drinking, but the Health Department said last week that the number of young adults who binge drink had increased from 7.4 per cent in 2010 to almost 10 per cent in 2012. Research or not, though, the dangers are enough reason for better regulation. At the least, alcohol should be treated the same as cigarettes; sales should be restricted to adults and campaigns against abuse launched.