Baby steps towards curbing sale of alcohol to minors
Government’s proposal to outlaw stores from selling liquor to those aged under 18 is welcome, as long as the rules are clear
To advocates of responsible consumption of alcohol, it might seem at times that a brewer could grow the hops and make a beer or a winemaker could even age a vintage faster than officials can close loopholes in the city’s laws against the sale of drinks to minors. News of progress that indicates the government is getting serious about underage drinking is nonetheless welcome. After all, there is mounting scientific and medical evidence that there is no safe limit for the consumption of alcohol that applies to all adults, let alone students still developing mentally and physically.
The Food and Health Bureau has foreshadowed amendments to the relevant ordinance and liquor regulations to finally prohibit unlicensed outlets such as convenience stores, supermarkets and other retailers from selling or supplying alcohol to under-18s, face-to-face or via vending machines, putting them on the same footing as licensed restaurants and bars banned from serving alcohol to those who are underaged.
Many retailers and their staff show a sense of basic responsibility in refusing to sell alcohol to minors. Where it is lacking, however, they can claim to have done nothing wrong in selling to minors. The disturbing results of such attitudes are to be found in a number of recent surveys, including one in 2015-16 by the Department of Health of at least 70,000 primary and secondary students. It revealed that 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, or five or more drinks in several hours. To 1.2 per cent and 2 per cent respectively it had become a monthly habit.
The proposed new laws include a fine of up to HK$50,000 for selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to under-18s, a fine of up to HK$25,000 for failing to display a sign about the prohibition and failing to obtain a declaration of age for remote distribution. Hopefully, detailed legislation will answer questions about requests for and supply of information about safeguards for traders who take reasonable steps to check a buyer’s age, and the responsibilities of owners, management and staff.