Starbucks stirs fears with alcohol sales

New flagship outlet risks tempting those under the age of 18 to try drinks that can only be sold to adults, and it must ensure children are not served

Spaces are so cramped for Hong Kong’s teenagers that fast food restaurants and coffee shops double as places to do homework and hang out with friends. A decision by the Starbucks chain to sell alcohol at its newly opened flagship store in a part of Causeway Bay that is commercial, office and residential should give us pause for thought.

Its coffee-infused beers and cocktails blur a line that may tempt those under the age of 18 to try drinks that can legally be sold only to adults. Authorities should have given more stringent consideration before issuing an alcohol licence, and the company has an obligation to check the identity cards of its young customers.

Parents think of coffee shops as safe environments for their children. Coffee is not considered a harmful drink; caffeine helps some students get through arduous homework and study sessions. Alcohol is quite another matter, though, with teens more vulnerable to addiction and risks associated with excessive drinking, including accidents, violence and health problems.

A relaxed atmosphere in which students are surrounded by adults drinking alcoholic beverages may create conditions or even pressure for them to also drink.

Hong Kong has a relaxed attitude towards alcohol, with it being openly on show to minors in convenience stores and supermarkets. Unlike in many other jurisdictions, drinking is permitted in public places.

But alcoholic drinks cannot be sold to under-18s and it is the responsibility of sellers and servers to enforce the law. There is good reason for such regulations; young people are vulnerable to alcohol-related harm and risks as their brains and bodies are still developing.

Alcohol can contribute to mental health problems, deepen depression and anxiety and lessen inhibitions, even to the point of spurring action on suicidal thoughts.

Parents should openly discuss the risks with their children at an early age and reinforce the conversation from time to time to help reduce chances of them becoming problem drinkers.

Authorities have to give careful consideration when issuing licences. Starbucks and other places where teenagers go that decide to serve alcohol have to ensure drinks are not sold or given to customers under the legal age.