Close loophole on sale of alcohol to minors

It’s far too easy for under-18s to buy liquor despite concerns about long-term effects on physical and mental health

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 12:00am

A law that is poorly defined can be self-defeating. Hong Kong’s liquor laws prohibit bars, clubs and other licensed venues from selling alcohol to those under the age of 18, a socially responsible restriction that reflects community standards and expectations, but they do not apply to retailers such as supermarkets and convenience stores. The sales policies of these businesses are governed by their owners and managers’ sense of responsibility. Where it is lacking, they can claim to have done nothing wrong in selling alcohol to under-18s.

Stop Hong Kong retailers from selling alcohol to minors, health officials urge

Despite the law’s good intention, teenagers and even younger children can be seen openly drinking in public spaces. Evidence is mounting in tandem with fears for health and social consequences. In October we reported a survey by Polytechnic University’s School of Nursing that found 38 per cent of the 840 Form Three students from six secondary schools interviewed had drinking experience dating back on average to just under 11 years of age. The survey found young drinkers were nearly five times more likely to develop behavioural problems.

Now a Department of Health survey of at least 70,000 primary and secondary students between September 2015 and March this year has revealed that some 3.4 per cent of Primary Four pupils and 12.1 per cent of Form Six pupils had at least one experience of binge drinking, defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks within several hours. Around 1.2 per cent and 2 per cent respectively called binge drinking a monthly habit. The risk of future health and addiction issues arising from premature tolerance of alcohol are self evident.

Hong Kong children drinking alcohol as young as 10, study finds

We welcomed health minister Dr Ko Wing-man’s assurance in October that the government was investigating how to regulate the sale of alcohol to youngsters in unlicensed stores. Officials are now discussing the possibility of extending the sales ban to all retailers. There is no doubt about the need to do so, and new measures should provide for proof of age and accountability of business and staff for supply of liquor.