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Hong Kong shops get ready for enforcement of new law banning sale of alcohol to minors

  • Law is set to come into force at midnight on Thursday. Infractions risk fines of up to HK$50,000
  • Previous voluntary initiatives by retailers have proven ineffective at preventing youngsters from buying alcohol
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 9:19pm

Retailers in Hong Kong have been putting up notices and training staff ahead of a new sales ban to kick in at midnight on Friday which will prohibit youngsters from buying alcohol.

The new regulation to regulate alcoholic drinks the same way as tobacco means that all shopkeepers will now have to ask customers for ID to verify they are aged 18 or above, or else they risk being prosecuted by the Department of Health’s Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office.

On Thursday, convenience stores and supermarkets were putting up notices alerting customers to the new law.

A spokesman for 7-Eleven said: “We welcome the government’s move to officially ban the sale of alcohol to minors by retailers, and will update our prominently displayed notices in all 7-Eleven outlets to ensure the new ordinance is clearly stated.”

In two 7-Eleven shops in Causeway Bay, the brand also put up its own signs, conveying the same message, and notices about minors not being allowed to buy alcohol were seen extensively on fridges and shelves displaying alcoholic drinks.

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He added that 7-Eleven also has both internal training and operation guidelines on the new ban.

Although the city’s bars and clubs are already banned from serving or selling alcohol to minors, retailers have not had to follow the rule up until Thursday.

A spokeswoman for ParknShop and Watsons Wine also said the retailers had ensured the notices are displayed prominently in their stores and provided training for staff.

She added that ParknShop had also arranged to have staff on duty at self-service checkout counters, where staff authorisation is required for all purchases of alcohol.

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The spokeswoman also said notices were displayed on the retailers’ websites and ParknShop’s mobile application.

The other large supermarket chain in Hong Kong, Wellcome, also said it would have notices displayed as required and had internal training and operation guidelines on the ban.

The new move was prompted by a worrying trend for binge drinking among youngsters in the city.

According to the Narcotics Division of the Security Bureau in 2014/15, alcohol was the most popular drug among young people, with 56.2 per cent admitting to having tried it; 7.4 per cent of young people had smoked tobacco and 2 per cent had tried other drugs.

The Centre for Health Protection has also expressed concern about a rise in the proportion of students who say they have binge drunk. In a 2016 study, 43.1 per cent of those polled said they had had their first taste of alcohol before the age of 18.

The Medical Association has warned that the harmful ­effects of drinking alcohol far outweigh its ­benefits, and that it was important to warn the ­public that there is no safe limit for alcohol – especially for youngsters.

Before the regulation, major retailers in the city had voluntarily adopted a measure to refuse the sale of alcohol to people younger than 18. But a review made by the Post last year has found that such practise was rarely effective.

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In the Post’s experiment, a 13-year-old schoolgirl instructed to pose as a customer was able to easily buy beers and spirits in five of the seven shops she visited in Yuen Long.

The new law covers all kinds of sale and supply, irrespective of whether payment is involved, to anyone under 18.

But the law does not apply to family gatherings or social events with no business intent.

The maximum fine for anyone breaking the new law is HK$50,000 (US$6,400) on summary conviction.

Stores selling alcohol are also required to display in a prominent location a sign containing both the Chinese and English versions of a prescribed notice about the law.

The maximum fine for non-compliance with the notice requirement is HK$25,000 on summary conviction.