Hong Kong must pay more attention to underage drinking problem
It is good that the government tabled the Dutiable Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2017 at Legislative Council on June 21, which shall prohibit the sale of liquor to minors in licensed and unlicensed premises.
Underage drinking is an issue that deserves far more public attention. Figures in 2014-2015 revealed that 56.8 per cent of secondary students had taken alcohol. One reason is lax regulations that have allowed minors to attain alcohol from convenience stores easily, as proven by tests done by your paper. The bill can therefore be read as a fundamental step to help steer teenagers away from alcohol-related harm.
While legislation is a powerful tool, it has limitations. Teenagers would easily succumb to peer pressure to try alcohol as it is common for social gatherings to involve alcohol. Perhaps the most influential factor, however, is the parent. Such influence has contributed to the spread of the misconception that it is acceptable to drink or even to experiment with drinking at an early age. Parental drinking practices, including parental encouragement, have been strongly associated with teenage drinking, as suggested by a local research paper.
In fact, many adults are not well informed about the harmful effects of drinking. According to a 2015 study of the Department of Health, more than 75 per cent of adults agreed to the incorrect statement that “alcohol drinking is harmful to health only when regular or heavy”.
In fact, early-age drinking is highly risky and can cause physical, emotional and developmental damage to young people both in the short and the long term. A world leading alcohol research institute has found that people who started drinking before the age of 15 are significantly more likely to develop alcohol use disorders as adults than those who wait until after age 18.
Legislation and education are both needed to keep young people away from alcohol.
While it is important to educate parents, Life Education Activity Programme (LEAP) believes that it is most effective to assist young people to establish a correct mindset towards alcohol from their very earliest beginnings through its sequential drug prevention programmes. And thanks to government funding, LEAP will be launching a two-year alcohol prevention project for 3,000 upper primary students in local schools in September.
We look forward to the passing of the bill and a continuous, concerted community effort in combating underage drinking.
Heidi Lau, executive director, LEAP