Health warnings could be put on beer cans and other alcoholic drinks in Hong Kong as the government considers its next step in an effort to curb binge drinking.
That comes after new rules took effect on Friday meaning customers have to show identification proving they are over 18 to buy a drink, and any retailer caught selling alcohol to a minor risks prosecution.
Health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee told a radio programme on Saturday that the new rule was to plug loopholes in the previous law, because officials had found a worrying trend of binge drinking among youngsters in the city.
Although bars and clubs were already banned from serving or selling alcohol to minors, retailers did not have to follow the rule before. The Tobacco and Alcohol Control Office has put an extra 30 inspectors on Hong Kong’s streets to enforce the new rule.
Asked if the government would bring in stronger measures similar to those regulating tobacco, such as warning messages on packs and minimum prices, Chan said the government would consider it.
“There are for sure other intervening measures. We would do it step by step,” Chan said.
The government has an action plan to help prevent and control non-communicable diseases in the next seven years. Among nine targets is a 10 per cent reduction in the prevalence of binge drinking.
A survey carried out in the 2014-15 financial year found 11.1 per cent of Hongkongers aged 15 or above consumed alcoholic drinks at least once a week.
Chan said: “According to the experiences of regulating tobacco, we have to do it [stronger measures] in a multipronged approach.
“Alcohol is classified as a group one carcinogen. As a health bureau, we are obliged to spread the message.”
The new law covers all kinds of sale and supply. But concerns have been voiced over possible loopholes in online sales, as inspectors have no power to check buyers’ age at home.
Chan said the government was concerned about that and would keep a close eye on the issue, and see if any changes were needed.
Asked if the government would set an example by banning alcohol at official banquets, Chan said abstinence was already practised by her bureau and she herself was not a drinker.
“By serving as a model ... I hope more departments will follow,” she said.
However, Liberal Party lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the wholesale and retail sectors in the legislature, warned against any move that would undermine the free market or freedom of choice.
“Hongkongers live longer than any people on Earth. Don’t overdo it and hurt our freedoms,” Shiu said.
The city had become an Asian hub for the wine trade because of its policy of zero duty, he added.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said alcohol and cigarettes should be considered separately and more studies were needed before deciding on policy changes.