People as young as 10 years old are starting to drink, according to a new survey, renewing calls make stronger laws against selling alcohol to people younger than 18.
Polytechnic University’s school of nursing interviewed 840 Form Three students from six secondary schools, and found that 38 per cent of them 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 young drinking. Students with friends that drank were almost 33 times more likely to drink alcohol than those without such friends.
“The finding was shocking and worrying,” said Frances Wong Kam-yuet, the president of the Academy of Nursing and a university professor.
Doctors say that when young people drink alcohol it could slow down their development – and cause irreversible brain damage.
“If students drink more alcohol, their learning abilities would definitely be worse than their counterparts,” said Dr Angus Chan Ming-wai, president of the College of Family Medicine.
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, which was World No Alcohol Day.
Restaurants with liquor licences are forbidden to sell alcohol to anyone younger than 18, but there are no laws against young people buying alcohol in shops or supermarkets.
Dr Mak Sin-ping from the College of Community Medicine said the government should change that, and make it illegal for any business to sell alcohol so someone younger than 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.”
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.