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Our View: Underage drinking a far more complex issue than upping drinking age

Lawmakers have upped the legal drinking age from 17 to 18 and significantly increased penalties for those caught selling alcohol to minors.

Eighteen is a sensible age to set the limit when compared to the US for instance, which insists on keeping it a rather puritanical 21, and brings Cyprus more in line with other EU countries.

While hiking the penalties for those found selling alcohol to minors from a pathetic €80 to  €3,000, was an absolute necessity, it’s hard to see how raising the age by one year will stop those aged 13 to 16 from still being able to get their hands on alcohol.

Cyprus comes in third in the EU for its share of binge-drinking youth. Two of the worst incidents last year involved a 16-year-old boy who died from alcohol poisoning, and a girl aged 13, whose mother found her semi-conscious with a group of friends in Limassol.

One MP, during discussions, made the point that if enforcement was not effective under the previous regulations, it was hard to see how raising the age by one year was going to change that.

It’s true that enforcement is only part of the story but those who do sell booze to kids will quite rightly pay a heavier price for doing so. Now police just need to catch the offenders. But how? Between 2016 and 2019 there were only 52 cases involving alcohol sales to under 17s.

Yes, police can step up checks on nightclubs and pubs the same way they currently check businesses for violating health protocols, but you can buy alcohol almost anywhere from kiosks to supermarkets. Even if outlets comply with the age limit, all it would take would be for an 18-year-old or some other unscrupulous adult to go and buy the drinks for them. The two incidents last year involved a house party and a gang of teens sitting around in the outdoors, not a nightclub.

Another deputy during the discussions pointed out that the amendments did nothing to help “develop a culture of critical thinking”. In this vein, last year when these two cases were in the news, the head of the parents’ secondary school association pointed the finger at parents as well, saying: “Us parents bear the biggest share of responsibility. We must stop doing our children favours, stop offering our children money or whatever they want… and cultivate a culture so that they will not need to drink alcohol or take other harmful substances.”

Teenage drinking is a complex social problem involving family situations, then schools and peer pressures, and lastly, legislation and law enforcement.  The root of the problem lies in what makes kids turn to alcohol or drugs and this does not always mean bad parenting, though often it does. In the same way, parents can’t expect that more law enforcement will take care of the problem and just expect the state to assume responsibility for their child’s emotional wellbeing.



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