Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LCQ19: Alcoholic beverage consumption by minors

     Following is a question by the Hon James Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 20):


     Some members of the public have relayed to me that as minors (i.e. persons aged below 18) can buy alcoholic beverages without restrictions from retail shops such as convenience stores and supermarkets, etc. at present, they may commit illegal or dangerous acts under the influence of alcohol.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of cases in each of the past three years in which minors allegedly committed illegal or dangerous acts under the influence of alcohol, with a breakdown by type of act;

(b) whether it knows if there is any study report with findings showing that the ready purchase by minors of alcoholic beverages has contributed to an increase in the number of cases in (a) or the problem of alcohol abuse among young people; if there are such reports, of the details;

(c) whether it has studied if the sale of alcoholic beverages by retail shops to minors is subject to regulation in overseas countries or regions; and

(d) whether there is any existing legislation or measure that regulates the sale of alcoholic beverages by retail shops to minors; if there is, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether it has any plan to impose regulation in this regard; if it has such a plan, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Tackling the issue of alcoholic beverage consumption by minors entails efforts in a number of areas.

     According to the Dutiable Commodities (Liquor) Regulations (Cap. 109B), only the holder of a liquor licence shall be allowed to sell liquor on appropriate premises and no licensee shall permit any person under the age of 18 years to drink any intoxicating liquor on any licensed premises.

     Apart from being the law enforcement agency for the above legislation, the Police is also responsible for maintaining law and order, protecting life and property, as well as taking law enforcement actions against any unlawful acts in question.

     Moreover, reducing alcohol-related harm is an important public health issue that warrants priority action on the part of the Government.  As such, the Working Group on Alcohol and Health (Working Group) was set up under the Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (Steering Committee) chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health.  The Working Group published the "Action Plan to Reduce Alcohol-related Harm in Hong Kong" (Action Plan) in October 2011.  It sets out, in detail, 17 items where the Government should collaborate with non-governmental organisations in taking actions to reduce alcohol-related harm, including strengthening surveillance of the profile of drinkers and relevant risks, promoting relevant research, empowering the general public to make informed choices about the use of alcohol, as well as enhancing community awareness and actions, etc.   Measures that target young people are being implemented in phases.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The Government does not keep statistics on the number of cases in which minors committed illegal or dangerous acts allegedly under the influence of alcohol.  

(b) The 2005 Child Health Survey commissioned by the Department of Health (DH) showed that 5% of children aged 11 to 14 had used alcohol and 0.3% of them were current binge drinkers.  Moreover, more than one-third of those children who had consumed alcohol had their first drink before the age of 11.  However, the DH has not conducted any study on the illegal or dangerous acts of minors under the influence of alcohol as a result of the convenient availability of alcoholic beverages.  

(c) According to the World Health Organization Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011, among the 147 countries which provided information about their policies on control of the availability of alcohol, 23, 22 and 21 countries had not set any restriction on the minimum age for off-premise legal sale and consumption of beer, wine and spirits respectively.  The Report shows that while the minimum age for off-premise legal sale and consumption of alcohol is usually set at 18, it ranges from the lowest at 15 (Angola) to the highest at 25 (Nepal).

     The Action Plan published by the said Working Group also points out that according to some studies, apart from enforcement actions, other relevant promotional and community activities might also help reduce sale of alcoholic beverages to minors.

(d) In Hong Kong, there is currently no restriction on the sale of alcoholic beverages by retail shops to people aged under 18.  However, according to the Action Plan published by the Working Group, some organisations have adopted a voluntary code of conduct to restrict the sale of alcohol to young people.  For example, the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, which is the major retail association in Hong Kong with a membership of more than 5 000 retail outlets, states in their code of conduct that its members should not sell any alcoholic beverages to people aged under 18.

     The Working Group noted that as shown in overseas studies, setting a minimum age for legal sale of alcoholic beverages is an effective measure to reduce alcohol-related harm.  Nevertheless, local studies which can show the effectiveness of these measures in reducing drinking among young people and alcohol-related harm are few and far apart.  When the results of more such local studies are available, the Working Group will explore the relevant issues, including whether to advise the authorities to study the regulation of off-premise sale of alcohol and the related age restriction.  

     In examining whether we should regulate the retail sale of alcoholic beverages to people under a certain age, the Government has to consider a number of factors, including the justifications for restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages to people under the age prescribed, the expected outcome of such regulation, the feasibility and urgency of regulation, as well as the impact of regulation on various sectors of the community, such as the retail industry.  Extensive consultation should also be conducted before a decision is taken on whether to introduce such a regulation and the regulatory approach.  While the Government does not have at this moment any specific plan on this matter, we will continue to keep an open mind and listen to the views of various stakeholders.

Ends/Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Issued at HKT 17:15


Print this page