LCQ7: Action plans to reduce alcohol-related harm

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (May 9):


     According to the statistics of the Department of Health (DH), the drinking prevalence among the adult population in Hong Kong rose from 30.9% in 2005 to 34.9% in 2010, and the per capita alcohol consumption rose from 2.57 litres in 2004 to 2.64 litres in 2010.  The Hong Kong Academy of Medicine has pointed out that there are quite a number of misconceptions about drinking in the community, and it has suggested the Government to make reference to the World Health Organization's strategies to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol, in particular those on limiting alcohol supply, regulating the marketing and event sponsorship in respect of alcohol beverages, as well as changing the pricing of and the taxation system for alcohol, etc.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the reasons for the increase in both the public's drinking prevalence and their alcohol consumption in recent years; whether it will conduct regular surveys on the public's understanding of the impact on health caused by alcohol, the reasons for members of the public drinking alcohol and their habits in drinking, alcohol abuse as well as demands for alcohol detoxification services;

(b) given that the sale of alcohol beverages to persons aged below 18 is prohibited under the law but it was pointed out in the 2008 issue of Non-communicable Diseases Watch published by DH that according to the Population Health Survey 2003-2004, 14.5% of youth aged between 15 and 17 drank alcohol occasionally or regularly, and furthermore, it was found in the Thematic Household Survey Report No. 45 published by the Census and Statistics Department that 2% of the respondents aged between 15 and 17 indicated that they had a habit of drinking alcohol, whether the authorities will assess if they need to step up law enforcement actions; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, whether any other measure is in place; and

(c) given that it was pointed out in the Non-Communicable Diseases Watch mentioned in (b) that 10.5% of the respondents had "hazardous" drinking in 2007, and the proportion of having "hazardous" drinking among men aged between 25 and 34 was as high as 27.2%, whether any government department or non-governmental organisation provides services to educate the public about the harmful effects of excessive alcoholic consumption as well as provides alcohol detoxification services at present; if so, of the details, together with the annual expenditure of the Government in this respect; whether the authorities will assess if they need to step up measures to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, the reasons for that?



     The World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out that alcohol consumption is associated with major non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  It has also reaffirmed that measures should be strengthened in reducing alcohol-related harm in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.  The HKSAR Government maintains close liaison with the WHO and makes exchanges from time to time with experts around the world in formulating action plans that suit local circumstances to reduce alcohol-related harm.

     In 2008, the HKSAR Government set up the Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (the Steering Committee).  Under the Steering Committee, the Working Group on Alcohol and Health (the Working Group) launched the Action Plan to Reduce Alcohol-related Harm in Hong Kong (the Action Plan) in October 2011 having taken into account scientific evidence and local circumstances.  The Action Plan covers 5 priority areas, 10 recommendations and 17 specific action items.  The Government and relevant non-government organisations (NGOs) will draw reference to the Action Plan and take action to reduce alcohol-related harm, including strengthening surveillance on the profile of drinkers and relevant risks, promoting relevant research, empowering the general public to make informed choices on the use of alcohol, strengthening community awareness and actions, etc.  The Steering Committee and Working Group will continue to monitor progress and provide advice.

     Our reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Public health actions should be based on the best available evidence.  The Working Group recognises that research and surveillance of alcohol consumption can help inform evidence-based intervention, so as to steer the direction of policy on prevention and control of alcohol-related harm.  The Working Group recommends strengthening surveillance on alcohol consumption and the profile of local drinkers through the existing population-based health surveys.  Since 2004, the Department of Health (DH) has been conducting regular surveillance of alcohol consumption among adults aged 18 to 64 through the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance (BRFS) System.  In the recent BRFS Survey conducted in 2011, the questionnaire included more questions on alcohol drinking behaviour, such as the type of alcoholic beverage that drinkers most often consume, the premises where drinkers most often drink and the persons with whom drinkers most often drink.  The findings have been uploaded onto the Centre for Health Protection website.  DH will continue to review, adjust and strengthen the surveillance of alcohol consumption as necessary.  

(b) Regulation 28 of the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) Regulations (Cap. 109B) provides that no licensee of licensed premises shall permit any person under the age of 18 years old to drink any intoxicating liquor on any licensed premises.  The Police will, having regard to the circumstances of individual applications for liquor licences, make suggestions to the Liquor Licensing Board (LLB) to impose additional licensing conditions, including prohibiting admission of persons under the age of 18 years to the licensed premises in question.  Prohibiting youths from drinking liquor on licensed premises can effectively prevent their access to alcohol and reduce the problem of alcoholism among youths.  If malpractices are found on licensed premises, the Police may issue a warning to the licensee or offender, take summons action or even make an arrest.  The LLB also has the right to revoke the licence or reject renewal applications.

(c) DH produces a variety of health education materials and makes use of various forms of media, so as to educate the public and publicise alcohol-related harm, enabling the public to make informed choices on alcohol consumption.  DH's Student Health Service disseminates messages to students on the harmful effects of drinking, smoking and drug abuse, and teaches them refusal skills.  The Family Health Service provides information to pregnant and lactating women regarding the impact of alcohol consumption on the health and development of foetuses and babies.  With reference to the aforementioned Action Plan, DH will produce more health education materials targeting different demographic groups to facilitate healthcare professionals' promotion of reducing alcohol-related harm, and to help parents, teachers and other parties talk to children and young people effectively about alcohol with a view to preventing underage drinking.   Public education and publicity on alcohol-related harm has been integrated into DH's ongoing programmes.

     At present, there are various institutions and organisations in Hong Kong that provide treatment of alcohol-related problems.  These include the Hospital Authority (HA), NGOs, private hospitals and clinics.  At present, the psychiatric specialist outpatient clinics and substance abuse clinics at all HA clusters provide alcohol abusers with multi-disciplinary assessment (including psychiatry, clinical psychology, nursing and occupational therapy etc.) and therapy services (including in-patient, out-patient, community support, guidance and rehabilitation etc.)  The "Stay Sober, Stay Free" Alcoholic Treatment Service Project run by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and NGOs such as Alcoholics Anonymous also provide services related to alcohol detoxification.  We are unable to calculate the expenditure of reducing alcohol-related harm as a stand-alone item.

Ends/Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:26