Wine tax could be reintroduced to curb Hong Kong's binge drinking

Hongkongers' alcohol consumption has risen considerably, particularly among young people

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 3:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 6:44pm

Health officials will look into controls on alcohol advertisements and a possible reintroduction of the wine tax to combat growing consumption of alcohol, particularly among young people.

This follows a steady rise in consumption generally and a big increase in binge drinking among the young, Centre for Health Protection consultant Dr Regina Ching Cheuk-tuen said yesterday.

"We should face up to the increasing trend," Ching said. "We have provided the data to related departments to see whether a change in the [tax] policy is needed, while we monitor problems that arise from drinking."

The department would also gather information on alcohol advertisements and communicate with broadcast regulators.

Hongkongers' average alcohol consumption has been increasing consistently each year from 2.6 litres in 2009 to 2.9 in 2012, measured in pure alcohol and calculated by dividing local alcohol production and net imports by the total population.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people aged 18 to 24 engaged in binge drinking has risen each year - from 7.4 in 2010 to 9.8 in 2012, Health Department figures show.

And the rate of children aged under 18 admitted to hospital for alcohol-induced conditions increased from two in every 100,000 in the age group in 2009 to 3.3 in 2012.

Ching, the centre's consultant for non-communicable diseases, said alcohol created health risks regardless of the amount consumed. She said health officials had also been discussing alcohol issues with university representatives in the past few months.

"We became aware that alcohol manufacturers are holding promotion activities on campuses and raised the problem with universities," she said. "Both staff and students should know more about the harmful effects of drinking."

Ching said many local students picked up the habit at university, from overseas students who brought in the drinking culture.

University of Hong Kong research has shown the percentage of boys engaged in binge drinking rose from 11 per cent in their first year of university to 21 per cent in their second year. The increase is more serious among girls - from 2.8 to 7.9 per cent.

Binge drinking is defined as having drunk at least five glasses or cans of alcoholic drinks on one occasion in the past month.

Hong Kong Paediatric Society president Dr Daniel Chiu Cheung-sing said alcoholic drinks should not be made available to children and young people. Law enforcement should be tightened so that those under 18 are unable to purchase alcohol, which they can do in convenience stores, he said. The city has become a global wine-trading hub since a 40 per cent wine tax was abolished in 2008.



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