Tuesday 23 June 2015

Liquor Control Act: Cleaner, quieter and much more pleasant

Residents, retailers in Clarke Quay area say alcohol curbs make a welcome difference to their lives
By Lim Yi Han, The Sunday Times, 21 Jun 2015

For years, Read Bridge in Clarke Quay was a weekend magnet for late-night revellers, filled to the railings with hundreds of young people having drinks on the cheap.

Now, the scene is hardly recognisable, 21/2 months after new laws restricting public consumption of alcohol kicked in.

When The Sunday Times visited after 11pm last Saturday, there were only about 50 people lining the bridge, compared to more than 300 in the past, and most were not drinking.

The few who were did so discreetly, sipping from plain cups or hiding the bottles and cans of alcohol in plastic bags.

At nearby Robertson Quay, gathering places around popular nightclub Zouk were quieter, with far fewer people loitering and drinking.

Both locations also had far less litter, a stark contrast from the past when empty liquor bottles, beer cans and vomit were the bane of cleaners.

Mr Tan Yong Hong, a 64-year-old who picks up cans on the bridge, said he used to be able to collect 10kg worth a night. Now, it is barely half that.

Under the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, which came into force on April 1, drinking in public is banned from 10.30pm to 7am. Retail outlets also cannot sell takeaway alcohol during those hours.

The price of being caught drinking is a fine of up to $1,000. Repeat offenders face a fine of up to $2,000, and the possibility of a maximum three months in jail. Shops found selling alcohol during the hours of the ban can be fined up to $10,000.

Residents and retailers The Sunday Times spoke to were pleased with the changed environment.

Businesswoman Jung Jungyoon, who lives at Centennia Suites near Zouk, said the Robertson Quay area is much cleaner and a lot less noisy.

"I used to be bothered by the noise, and the smell of vomit. I could see some people just lying on pavements," said the 34-year-old. "I'm pretty happy about the atmosphere now, it's a big difference."

A resident of Rivergate condominium, who did not want to be named, said the situation has "definitely improved" though she still spots young people drinking during the prohibited hours.

The alcohol restrictions have benefited clubs in the area, with Zouk saying it has seen a slight increase in alcohol sales during the earlier hours of its opening.

There has also been a marked decrease in rowdiness and drunken behaviour outside, and even inside, the clubs.

Attica's general manager Roberto Gagliardi said: "Clarke Quay's ambience may be a bit down, but there is less disorder... and fewer customers arriving drunk."

Mr Saravana G., manager of wine bar Verre at Robertson Quay, said: "Drinkers would leave rubbish, get drunk and start shouting. They would also use the toilet in my bar. It was very unpleasant. I had to call the police several times before.

"Now the drinking crowd outside is all but gone."

For non-drinkers, Read Bridge has become a more welcoming place. Musician Helmizar Kamal complained that the place used to be dirty and that it was very hard to find a place to sit. "Now it's a lot more peaceful and I'll come here more often," said the 25-year-old.

But there are some who miss the "vibrancy" of the past.

A 29-year-old construction engineer, who wanted to be known as Victor, said: "I don't enjoy this area as much now. We can't come here and drink with our friends after work any more."

Account manager Luke Brandon, 24, added: "It's not as fun. We now have to travel to a friend's place in some inconvenient area (to drink), then travel again to a club. We are usually sober by then. It's a bummer, but I don't want to get fined."

Shops take hit as sales drop in wake of new rules
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Sunday Times, 21 Jun 2015

Liquor sales have fallen by as much as 50 per cent for some retailers in the wake of April's alcohol curbs, especially for those in Geylang, where the restrictions are stricter.

Both Geylang and Little India have been deemed Liquor Control Zones where takeway alcohol sales are barred from 7pm on weekends, the eve of public holidays and holidays - earlier than the 10.30pm cutoff everywhere else.

But Saturday evenings are when sales are supposed to peak, as many foreign workers spend the night out ahead of their Sunday day off.

Eight Geylang retailers told The Sunday Times that over the last few months, sales of alcohol have plummeted by at least 40 to 50 per cent. For one shop, this has meant losing tens of thousands of dollars in monthly liquor sales.

For some, the curbs have cost them at least a fifth of total sales, as customers who bought snacks and daily necessities, along with their drinks, are staying away.

M.R Provisions is cutting staff from three to two.

Said its manager Ramesh Chockalingam: "By the time workers finish work on Saturday, they reach Geylang after 7pm. It would be good if we can sell up to 10.30pm on Saturdays."

Having to deal with some angry customers is another issue - even after shops lock their drinks refrigerators or cover beer bottles on shelves.

Mr Mohamed Ashir, the general manager of provision shop Aaisha Layaan Enterprise, said: "Some customers can get very adamant. A few weeks ago, I had four to five of them arguing with me because I could not sell alcohol to them."

"From next month, we plan to close at 7pm on Saturdays. We depend mainly on liquor sales so there is no point opening if we can't sell."

Shops in Little India had more time to deal with the drop in sales. Similar curbs were put in place in the wake of the December 2013 riot there. But it has not been easy.

Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association chairman Rajakumar Chandra said that over the last year, business has fallen by about 70 per cent for many provision shops, which depend mainly on liquor sales.

This has worsened by another 20 per cent since April as they can no longer sell alcohol after 10.30pm on weekdays.

He said: "It has gotten very quiet on weekdays now. A lot of businesses are changing their products to non-alcohol provisions."

Convenience store and supermarket chains have also taken a hit. Alcohol sales at 7-Eleven outlets in Geylang, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, in April and last month have fallen by about 40 per cent compared to last year.

Cheers said that its outlets in the three areas have seen a 30 per cent drop. For Sheng Siong's outlet in Geylang, the figure was put at 12 per cent.

And the fall in business is not just restricted to these areas. Alcohol sales have dropped by a third at 7-Eleven outlets around Singapore. Operating hours have had to be tweaked, with 10 outlets now closing at 11pm as it was "no longer financially viable" to keep them open, said 7-Eleven's chief operating officer Steven Lye.

"The new restrictions have not only impacted operations at hot spots, but across all outlets in Singapore, even though the stores had no notable liquor-related concerns in the past... This has placed financial stress, especially on our franchisees."

Coffee shops, in particular those in Geylang, have been making losses of about 40 per cent, according to Mr Hong Poh Hin, the vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association.

"Many coffee shops in Geylang have outdoor tables, where public drinking is not allowed after 10.30pm. If there is no place for them to drink, customers won't come."

Worry over young binge-drinkers
More people are seeking help over alcohol abuse
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2015

HE DRANK till he blacked out. Then he drank some more.

Yet scientist Thomas Tan (not his real name) reached for the bottle time and again.

Like many alcoholics, Mr Tan began drinking in his teens, "after we booked out of army on weekends and partied".

"I was shy and introverted, but alcohol transformed me into the life of the party," he said.

The drinking continued into his 20s, where alcohol would help him unwind and was a reward after a long, hard week.

"But after a few drinks, the more dislikeable side of me came out," the 38-year-old said. "I was sarcastic, I character-assassinated my friends and they stopped hanging out with me."

At his worst, he could down an entire bottle of hard liquor in a day, but he did not see a problem.

"I was still functional; there was no complaint about my work," said Mr Tan.

Things went downhill from there. Without friends, he drank alone at home. In his late 20s, he went on binge-drinking sessions to cope with pressures of failing his doctoral studies.

"I went from blackout to blackout."

Luckily for Mr Tan, he got help in time at Alcoholics Anonymous Singapore (AA). He went through a programme which has since helped him stay dry for three years.

With more people here turning to the bottle, drinking harder and starting younger, more alcoholics are also seeking help for their drinking problems, with psychiatrists or fellowships like AA.

At Singapore's largest addiction treatment centre, the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS), counsellors saw 433 new cases from April last year to this March, compared with 415 cases a year earlier.

Private psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, known for his work in addictions, saw one new case of alcohol abuse a week four years ago. But now he sees two to three new cases.

Psychiatrist Thomas Lee estimated there has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of alcohol abuse cases he has seen in the past three years.

Some patients are dragged to clinics by a family member, while others sign up voluntarily.

At NAMS and psychiatric clinics, many who seek help are aged 45 and above. But this could be after years of drinking.

Dr Winslow, former chief of the Institute of Mental Health's addiction medicine department, said: "They seek help simply because they have drunk long enough and hard enough to know they have a problem."

NAMS counsellor Tan Ming Hui said: "Some also suffer falls, incur drinking debt and fail in their family responsibilities, which complicates the situation."

What psychiatrists are most concerned about is the growing number of binge-drinkers in their teens and 20s.

"Many of them have not hit rock bottom or felt the full impact of their drinking, so they don't come forward," noted Dr Lee.

"They can still function normally at work so they don't think they have a problem."

Teenage girls who binge drink, warned Dr Winslow, may "accept pills that they may not accept when they are sober or engage in unprotected sex".

NAMS' Ms Tan is particularly worried about teenagers and young adults who binge drink continuously. This is because it is especially harmful for their developing brain, which can make them "vulnerable to developing addiction" and affect their thinking abilities later in life.

In Singapore, 18.7 per cent of men and 12.2 per cent of women aged 18 to 29 binge drink, which is defined as having four or more alcoholic drinks in one session for women, and five or more for men.

Many start drinking in their 20s as this is when they have their first disposable income, said Dr Winslow.

"It's not only health problems. They get into fights or engage in drink driving. Or they black out and wake up in a stranger's bed, not remembering what they had done the night before," he added.

What is worse, some alcoholics mix booze with other drugs like sleeping pills to achieve "a multiplier effect".

"They wake up in a bad hangover, or sometimes never at all."

Help is at hand for alcoholics in Singapore, said the professionals, but first, they have to recognise they have a problem.

For Mr Tan, alarm bells rang when he got so unwell that he would vomit after drinking half a bottle of wine.

"I would throw up, drink and throw up again," he said. "I knew that drinking was a futile exercise, but I could not stop my mental obsession with alcohol."

He finally went through AA's 12-step self-awareness programme. Being with other recovering alcoholics helped too.

"It's one drunk talking to another; we understand each other's difficulties," he said.

Though he had to go "cold turkey" and endure shakes and seizures, it was worth it, he said.

"I don't go to places that serve alcohol unless there is an occasion, like celebrating a friend's birthday."

Mr Tan, who now works as a biomedical researcher and exercises three times a week, added: "I was on the brink, but I'm glad I chose the right path. I've got a clean bill of health. I am truly happier now."

How much drinking is too much?

A DRINK or two may be the spice of life. Research even suggests that drinking moderate amounts of red wine has protective effects on the heart. But how much is too much?

According to the Health Promotion Board's guidelines, women should drink no more than one standard drink a day and men should limit themselves to two standard drinks a day. A standard alcoholic drink contains 10g of alcohol, and this can be estimated to be one can (330ml) of regular beer, half a glass (175ml) of wine or one nip (35ml) of spirits.

Despite the common belief that alcohol addicts drink every day, this is not always the case, said National Addictions Management Service counsellor Tan Ming Hui. But during drinking episodes, they drink heavily which may lead to trouble.

Psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow said: "When you find that your friend often drinks till he blacks out, reads with horror the e-mails that he sent off the previous day or can't remember what he did, or if he has to hide his frequent drinking from friends and family, seek help."

If you or a loved one needs help, call:

Alcoholics Anonymous Singapore: 9053-1764; or

National Addictions Management Service: 6732-6837

* Complaints about late-night public drinking down since curbs
Almost 470 advisories issued since April; 'living environment significantly improved'

By Hoe Pei Shan, The Sunday Times, 12 Jul 2015

Since the ban on late-night drinking in public came into force in April, nearly 470 people have been issued advisories for flouting the rules.

Another five people were arrested after refusing to stop drinking despite being told to do so by police. Two were eventually given stern warnings while cases against the rest are under investigation.

Two retailers also landed in trouble for selling alcohol after 10.30pm and are now being investigated.

The figures were revealed by police yesterday, when Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, who is also an MP for West Coast GRC, conducted a night walkabout in Jurong West, where there had been complaints of public drinking.

Since the restrictions were implemented, "the living environment has significantly improved", said Mr Iswaran, who spent last night meeting alcohol retailers, coffee shop owners and residents. "What we have observed and what the police officers who are here on the ground tell us is that the disamenities and the general complaints have subsided significantly."

Under the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, which was passed in Parliament in January, drinking in public is banned from 10.30pm to 7am. During the period, retail outlets are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol.

Those caught drinking can be fined up to $1,000, with repeat offenders risking penalties of up to $2,000 and three months in jail. Retail outlets, including convenience stores and supermarkets, found selling alcohol during the hours of the ban can be fined up to $10,000.

Stricter controls apply in Little India and Geylang, where takeaway alcohol sales are barred from 7pm on weekends, the eve of public holidays and holidays .

Retailers have complained about taking a hit to their alcohol sales, but Mr Iswaran said "it's a trade-off that we've had to make". "Overall it has been a very positive impact with minimal disruption, and for most people, life goes on," he said.

The Act is meant to tackle troublemakers and serious alcohol-related offences, with Mr Iswaran revealing in January that over the last three years, there was on average one rioting incident and two cases of serious hurt that involved liquor each week.

While some complained about the curbs, it has helped clean up popular drinking spots such as Clarke Quay. When The Sunday Times visited the area last month, empty liquor bottles, beer cans and vomit, which used to be a common sight in the morning, were all but gone.

Police said the message is getting through. They issued 60 per cent fewer advisories last month, compared with May.

"Some people were initially unaware of the changes, so we would take a soft approach and educate them," said Staff Sergeant Teo Chang Meng, who patrols the Jurong West area. The 24-year-old officer said he used to attend to two to three drinking-related incidents a week. He would also face resistance when telling drinkers to keep it down. Since April, he has not had to attend to a single case after 10.30pm, he said.

Jurong West resident Chong Kim, 62, who has been living there for more than 20 years, said some people used to drink till 2am, leaving litter and urine at the void decks. The school operations manager said he has seen fewer such incidents since the new legislation kicked in.

Fewer rowdy scenes with liquor curbs
Littering also down in neighbourhoods but minimarts suffer reduced takings
The Sunday Times, 12 Jul 2015

Stricter liquor laws have helped to cut down rowdy incidents in neighbourhoods, though minimarts have suffered reduced takings of at least 5 per cent.

Some convenience stores that previously closed at around midnight are now shuttering earlier because they are no longer allowed to sell alcohol - a big source of income for some - after 10.30pm, said Mr Alan Tay, the chairman of the Singapore Mini Mart Association.

New laws since April 1 prohibit the retail sale of alcohol and drinking in public places after 10.30pm.

In Little India and Geylang, the rules are more stringent and retailers are not allowed to sell alcohol from 7pm on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays.

JS Minimart in Jurong West used to close at around 11 to 11.30pm but now shuts at about 10.30pm.

Said its owner, Mr Rafiqul, 38: "People used to buy alcohol right up until we closed. Previously, we could make up to $350 a day from alcohol alone - now it's only about $200 to $250... Sometimes, it is difficult to cover rental."

Minimarts that are open 24 hours might see an even more drastic drop in sales, added Mr Tay.

The bright side is that littering and disturbances caused by drinking have become less frequent.

Mr Rafiqul, who lives in Jurong West, said: "Before the new rules, some people would buy alcohol and go to a nearby playground or void deck to drink. Sometimes, there would be shouting and it would go on till very late into the night."

Coffee shop workers have also noticed changes. Said Madam Lim Siew Choo, 67, who runs a drink stall: "Before the new laws, once or twice a week we would have to call the police because drunkards would be making trouble, sometimes fighting. I would also arrive at work to see lots of litter left by them. We no longer have any trouble in the mornings."

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