Thursday, June 2, 2011

India's Mumbai raises drinking age to 25

Indian state legislators have voted to raise the age limit for buying alcohol in the country's entertainment capital Mumbai, sparking concern from the drinks industry and fury among young people.

Lawmakers agreed on Wednesday evening to change the minimum age for buying beer from 18 to 21 and spirits from 21 to 25 as part of moves to discourage under-age consumption and problem drinking.

The measures -- which include fines for illegal drinking, a ban on serving alcohol at public functions and ceremonies and more "dry days" when the sale of alcohol is banned -- will apply in Mumbai and across the state of Maharashtra.

But spirit-makers and the hotel and restaurant industry reacted strongly against the decision, saying it would adversely affect business.

"Thirty percent of white spirits is consumed by people under 25," said Deepak Roy, vice-chairman and chief executive of Allied Blenders and Distillers (ABD), which makes the Indian whisky Officer's Choice.

"I do not know what is the rationale of this decision, given that they are allowed to vote at the age of 18," he was quoted as saying by the Economic Times newspaper.

The president and chief executive of Bacardi India, Mahesh Madhavan, also told the financial daily on Thursday that the industry would be hit.

"Two hundred and twenty-two white spirits brands are consumed by people below 25 years. And it is the segment under 25 who spend the most," he was quoted as saying.

Mumbai is often seen as India's most cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant nightlife centred around bars and nightclubs, most of which attract a younger, well-heeled Indian crowd.

They have already been hit by a steep state government tax increase on foreign-branded liquor and beer manufactured in India.

"The majority of people who go out are young and under 25," said angry drinker Russell Mascarenhas, who told the Mumbai Mirror newspaper that young people were already "agitated because of the increase in liquor prices."

"It's like asking youngsters to stop celebrating," the 21-year-old said.

But Maharashtra's chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, said problem drinking was a social issue and insisted the measures were not an attempt at moral policing.
"Liquor consumption stresses the health system and destroys families," he told reporters.

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