China begins phasing ban on alcohol sales to minors

China has begun phasing in a ban on alcohol sales to minors prompted by concerns that permissive attitudes among parents and teachers have worsened a growing problem with underage drinking. The ban, which came into force on New Years day, outlaws sales of beverages with an alcohol content of 0.5 percent or above to anyone under age 18, according to a copy of the regulation viewed Friday on the Commerce Ministry Web site. Violators can be fined up to 2,000 yuan (US$250; Ђ206) for serious infractions.

However, retailers have being given three months to fully implement the regulation, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The ban is merely a regulation, not a law, and it wasn't clear how it would be enforced.

While many shops already display signs saying they don't sell alcohol to minors, China has never had a formal ban on such sales. The only previous legal mention was a reference in the law on protection of minors that young people should be prevented from abusing alcohol. Experts say rising underage drinking has accompanied the growth of urban incomes and growing independence among children to indulge in the proliferation of restaurants, bars, karaoke parlors and other leisure outlets.

Fully a quarter of middle school students and up to 80 percent of high school students say they have drunk alcohol, according to figures cited by China Youth Research Center researcher Sun Yunxiao in a recent article in the official People's Daily newspaper.

"Alcohol abuse among minors has been pretty much ignored in schools and society as compared to drug use or even smoking cigarettes," Sun was quoted as saying. "There has never been an effective mechanism like there is overseas for preventing the problem," he said.

Along with banning underage drinking, the Commerce Ministry's new "Procedures for Regulating the Circulation of Alcohol" also requires vendors to obtain licenses for alcohol sales and ensure alcohol purity and safety, reports the AP. I.L.

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