Draft Law Sets Legal Drinking Age at 21, Highest in Region

The Health Ministry has drafted Cambodia’s first-ever law to control the sale and consumption of alcohol, which imposes a minimum legal drinking age of 21 and would fine retailers who sell liquor to anyone underage.

A minimum drinking age of 21 would transform Cambodia from one of the laxest countries on alcohol—both globally and in the region—to one of the strictest. In Asean, only Indonesia’s government has set its drinking age limit as high.

Cambodia has almost no laws that directly control the purchase and consumption of alcohol, or regulate the alcohol industry and local retail market.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said Wednesday the aim of setting the minimum drinking age so high was to protect young people’s health and to instill good morals by preventing them from going to bars.

“The law will limit people who are under 21 years of age from buying alcohol or going to drink alcohol at bars,” he said. “And it is important that the law focuses on controlling both alcohol sellers and alcohol users too.”

Mr. Bunheng said the draft law was approved by the Justice Ministry two weeks ago and would now be subject to further review.

“The draft law will be discussed by an inter-ministerial commission soon,” he said.

Details of the draft law were announced at a press conference Wednesday, where representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Cambodian Movement for Health and U.K. alcohol policy expert James Nichols were in attendance.

The panel referred to recent research showing that 96 percent of Cambodians were in favor of the government tackling alcohol consumption, which the WHO says is rising.

Mr. Nichols said it was imperative to regulate the industry as international conglomerates were targeting the region with increasingly sophisticated marketing and advertising.

“The idea of limiting drinking to 21 is that what tends to happen is that youth start drinking as a rite of passage a couple of years before the legal limit,” he said.

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