Wine tax 'won't stop young binge drinkers'

Bars and restaurants say shops should step up identity checks instead

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am

You're not thinking straight if you believe a tax on wine will reduce alcohol consumption among young people, bars and restaurants say. To make a real dent in underage drinking, educate the young and step up identity checks in shops, they say.

The industry was responding to news this week that health authorities are considering bringing back the wine tax - scrapped in 2008 - after seeing an increase in young people binge drinking.

"I'm sure there are people who do [binge drink wine], but it's not the most efficient way [to binge drink]," said Cristobal Huneeus, founding partner of La Cabane, a wine bistro on Hollywood Road in Central. "Usually it's spirits or beer, and spirits are already taxed so highly, it still doesn't stop the 18- to 24-year-olds from drinking heavily."

Huneeus said a reintroduction of the tax would probably force the wine auction market back to places such as London or New York, leaving Hongkongers with less choice.

An unintended consequence of a general liquor tax rise could also be young drinkers heading to Macau or the mainland, where the tax was lower, he said.

Hong Kong has a 100 per cent tax on liquor with more than 30 per cent alcohol and, until 2008, had a 40 per cent wine tax. Since the wine tax was lifted, it has become a regional hub for the trade.

But more people aged 18 to 24 are engaging in binge drinking: from 7.4 per cent in 2010 to 9.8 per cent in 2012, according to Health Department figures.

Like Huneeus, Tommy Fong, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, which represents the restaurants and bars in the nightlife district in Central, believes education is the best way forward. "[A tax] won't affect us much, because most of our customers are between 25 and 40, and drink mostly beer," he said.

Fong called for supermarkets and shops to take identity checks seriously. "We have a real problem here with the 7-Elevens," he said. Any police presence usually deterred underaged buyers, he said, but once officers left it was business as usual. La Cabane manager Latif Dilworth agreed: "If you want to make a difference, target the 7-Elevens and the supermarkets."