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Press Release

DH seeks to protect young people from alcohol-related harm

15 May 2014

The Department of Health (DH) today (May 15) joined with medical professionals in appealing for public action to protect young people from alcohol-related harm, echoing the latest report of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO's Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 revealed that the number of deaths worldwide due to alcohol-related harm had increased from 2.5 million in 2011 to 3.3 million in 2012. Alcohol is a component cause in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions. Alcohol consumption can cause death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group from 20 to 39, about 25 per cent of total deaths are alcohol-attributable.

Speaking at a press conference today, the Consultant Community Medicine (Non-Communicable Disease) of the Centre for Health Protection of the DH, Dr Regina Ching, remarked that the estimated per capita alcohol consumption among the local population had grown from 2.6 litres of pure alcohol in 2009 to 2.87 litres in 2012, with a steady rise noted since exemption of duties for wine and liquor of an alcoholic strength of not more than 30 per cent in February 2008.

"According to the DH's Behavioural Risk Factor Survey in April 2012, 6.3 per cent of the respondents aged between 18 and 64 had engaged in binge drinking, which is drinking at least five cans/glasses of alcohol beverage on one occasion, during the 30 days prior to the survey. While an overall downward trend was observed, binge drinking among young adults aged from 18 to 24 increased from 7.4 per cent in 2010 to 9.8 per cent in 2012, and this is certainly a cause for concern," Dr Ching said.

Medical professionals called on the public to stay alert to the underlying harmful effects of alcohol on health, and for child and youth development in particular.

"Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen, a cancer-causing substance of the highest risk, the same as tobacco smoke, asbestos and ionising radiation. Alcohol causes cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, food passage, liver, bowel and female breasts," the Chairman of the Cancer Detection and Prevention Committee of the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society, Dr Anthony Ying, explained at the press conference.

The Emeritus Professor of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Raymond Liang, also refuted the suggestion that alcohol is good for heart health, as the evidence remained controversial.

"On the contrary, higher doses of alcohol were associated with increased mortality from coronary heart disease. The WHO has never promoted moderate drinking for heart protection. Alcohol affects the digestive system, causing inflammation of the food passage and stomach. It also damages the liver, resulting in hepatitis and cirrhosis," Professor Liang said.

Regarding child and youth development, the President of the Hong Kong Paediatric Society, Dr Daniel Chiu, reminded the public that alcohol is a strong agent of disinhibition, putting people at risk of accidents, violence, crime and unsafe sex.

"Alcohol poses harm to adolescents' still-developing brain, which might reduce their memory skills. Early initiation of drinking is shown to be a powerful predictor of alcohol dependence and abuse in later age," Dr Chiu said.

"Young people are at particular risk of immediate, short and long-term alcohol-related harms which affect their physical, intellectual, social and mental development. Young people should, and be helped to, say 'no' to alcohol," Dr Regina Ching concluded.

Parents and guardians are urged to take action to protect their children from alcohol-related harm. Adults should be role models by not drinking and not exposing young people to alcohol, including not letting them drink, not giving them alcohol, and not pressing them to drink. The DH also appealed to schools, institutions and organisations which are concerned about young people for joint efforts in creating an alcohol-free environment.

The public may visit the WHO's latest report (This link will open in a new, its page on alcohol (This link will open in a new or the CHP's webpage on Alcohol and Health (This link will open in a new for more information.

The Consultant Community Medicine (Non-Communicable Disease) of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Regina Ching (second right), today (May 15) appeals to the public for action to protect young people from the harmful use of alcohol.

  Last Revision Date : 15 May 2014