Reducing young people’s access to alcohol in Cyprus

Leda Christodoulou

The National Addictions Authority of Cyprus (NAAC) marked the country’s 5th Alcohol Awareness Week (AAW) with a joint meeting of the national committees of health and interior in early December 2017, to discuss the harmful use of alcohol with members of parliament.

The meeting focused specifically on promoting measures to reduce the availability and accessibility of alcohol to minors. Heavy episodic drinking among young people (aged 18–25 years) is a particular public health concern in Cyprus and the issue was highlighted during the joint meeting and subsequent press conference.

During the event, presentations were given by Dr Chrysanthos Georgiou, President of the NAAC; Cees Goos, Chair of the Alcohol Policy Network; and Leda Christodoulou and Evi Kyprianou, officers of the NAAC’s Policy Department. The presentations focused on the priorities, goals and actions for reducing alcohol-related harm that are currently being promoted and implemented at the national level. Members of the parliament took note of the presented information and gaps in legislation; the Parliament decided to introduce an amendment to the Sales of Alcoholic Beverages Law, based on the proposals made by the NAAC. The aim of the legislative amendment will be to enhance the law’s effectiveness and improve enforcement through the introduction of stricter penalties, an increased age limit for alcohol consumption, and mandatory responsible sales and service training for obtaining an alcohol sales license. Further parliamentary discussions will be held in early 2018.

Currently, the age limit for purchasing beer, wine and spirits in Cyprus is 17 years. The WHO’s European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 encourages governments to take steps to control the availability of alcohol. The action plan states that if the minimum purchase age is less than 18 years in a country, the government should consider raising it to 18 years for all beverage categories. Furthermore, minimum purchase ages should be enforced by, for example, using young test-buyers to ensure that establishments comply with restrictions on alcohol sales to minors. Over the past 15 years, binge drinking among students in Cyprus has increased, and results from a recent pilot mystery-shopping programme showed that 95% of shops did not comply with regulations around age verification.

Aside from the parliamentary discussions, a variety of activities were organized for the 2017 AAW, including workshops in school settings, street work programmes engaging young people, and awareness-raising activities in the community. Cyprus police also intensified alcohol breath testing during and immediately after AAW and made on-site visits to recreational settings to enforce the age limit for the sale of alcoholic beverages.