Younger people are starting to drink at just 10 years old, according to a new survey, renewing calls to strengthen regulation around the sale of alcohol to people aged below 18 years old.
The survey, conducted by Polytechnic University’s school of nursing, revealed that 38 per cent of the 840 Form Three students from six secondary schools interviewed had drinking experiences.
The survey found that on average, respondents started drinking at 10.9 years old. Those who drank were also 4.65 times more likely than non-drinkers to develop behavioural problems, such as school absence or refusal to submit homework.
Peer influence was identified as a key factor in drinking among youngsters. Students with friends that drank were almost 33 times more likely to consume alcohol than those without such friends.
“The finding was shocking and worrying,” president of the Academy of Nursing and university professor Frances Wong Kam-yuet said.
Doctors warned that consuming alcohol at early ages could cause irreversible brain damage and hamper children’s development.
“If students drink more alcohol, their learning abilities would definitely be worse than their counterparts,” Dr Angus Chan Ming-wai, president of the College of Family Medicine, said.
He said drinking could affect a child’s nervous system, which is at its most crucial stage of development during the younger years.
The finding triggered calls for stricter enforcement of the drinking age yesterday, on World No Alcohol Day.
While restaurants with liquor licences are forbidden to sell alcohol to youngsters aged below 18, no laws have been set to limit sales in other retail sites such as supermarkets.
Dr Mak Sin-ping from the College of Community Medicine said the government should bolster regulation to ensure alcohol is not sold to people aged below 18.
“Almost 90 per cent countries around the world regulate the age of people buying alcohol,” Mak said. “The government could take this as the first step, similar to what has been done on tobacco sales now.”
Health Minister Dr Ko Wing-man said the government was investigating ways to regulate the sale of alcohol to youngsters in retail sites without liquor licences.
Alcohol causes some 3.3 million deaths every year, according to the World Health Organisation.