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Archive for Thursday, March 12, 2009

France puts a cork in alcohol sales to youth

March 12, 2009

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Legal drinking ages

A glance at the minimum legal drinking age in various countries around Europe:

  • Germany: 16 years for beer, wine, hard liquor.
  • Italy: 16 years although the limit is rarely enforced.
  • Portugal: 16 years for all types of alcohol, though some want to raise it to 18 because of growing problem of teen over-consumption.
  • Netherlands: 16 years for all types of alcohol, a recently introduced minimum due to concern over youth drinking.
  • Spain: 18 years for all kinds of alcohol.
  • Britain: 18 years, but according to Licensing Act 2003, 16- to 17-year-olds can drink beer, wine or cider with a meal when accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over.
  • Hungary: 18 years for all alcoholic beverages. Health authorities have advocated raising minimum legal age to 20 or 21, without success.

— A spot of Calvados, the apple brandy, in the bottle to help baby sleep. Champagne for all at the family fete. And wine anytime, well, because we’re French.

All this tippling has given authorities pause as studies show that a surprising number of young teenagers are knocking it back in a serious way, often legally. France’s conservative government now wants to wean the country’s youth off the bottle with a ban on under-18 drinking.

Lawmakers in the National Assembly, the lower house, adopted an amendment Monday that would ban the sale of alcohol to teens under the age of 18 and fine the vendors up to $9,400. They also voted to forbid the overnight sale of alcohol at gas stations, thought to be a prime source of booze for the young. The amended bill still requires approval by the Assembly and the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

In a double-whammy, legislators voted to ban the sale of tobacco for those under 18, the latest step in a progressive crackdown on smoking.

The new measures come three days after Assembly lawmakers voted to ban all-you-can-drink events in open bars popular with young people — while exempting wine tastings so important to the wine industry.

The drinking age in France varies depending on the type of alcohol involved and the place of sale. But anyone 16 or older can order beer and wine in bars.

French teenagers who suddenly find themselves underage may grow jealous of neighboring countries such as Germany or Italy where the legal drinking age is still 16 for beer, wine or liquor. Europeans overall take a more liberal view of alcohol than, for instance, the United States, where the legal drinking age is 21. In most western European countries, it ranges from 16 to 18.

Now, experts contend that this benign approach is leading French youth down a crooked path. Binge drinking is an emerging phenomenon, mimicking northern European countries.

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