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Alcohol, tobacco and young people

There are a number of laws in NSW designed to protect young people (under 18s) from being sold alcohol and tobacco and from being given or from consuming alcohol.

Alcohol and young people

There is no general law that absolutely prohibits young people drinking alcohol. It is illegal in some circumstances, but not in others.

It is illegal for a person under 18 years to possess or drink alcohol in a public place, if they are not under the supervision of a responsible adult. The young person can be fined and the alcohol confiscated.

It is also illegal for a person under 18 years to drink alcohol on licensed premises, such as pubs, clubs and licensed restaurants. It is illegal for a person under 18 years even to be in some parts of some licensed premises.

But it is not illegal for a person under 18 years to consume alcohol in a private place—for example, at home or at a private barbecue or party. A person under 18 can also legally drink in a public place (provided they are not in a declared alcohol free zone), or in an unlicensed BYO restaurant, with the permission of and in the company of their parent or guardian.

It is an offence for a young person to obtain or attempt to obtain alcohol from licensed premises, including a bottle shop. It is also an offence for a young person to use false evidence of age to obtain alcohol. The maximum penalty for each of these offences is a fine of $2200.

It is an offence for anyone except the parent or guardian of the young person to sell or supply alcohol to a person under 18 years old, or to obtain alcohol on behalf of someone under 18. Similarly, it is an offence for the licensee of licensed premises to allow alcohol to be supplied to a person under 18. The maximum penalty for these offences is a fine of $11,000 and 12 months’ imprisonment.

It is legal to supply (but not sell) alcohol to a person under 18 provided the supply is done by the young person’s parent or guardian (or with their authorisation) and provided it is ‘consistent with the responsible supervision’ of the young person. Factors taken into account on that issue include the age of the young person, whether the person supplying the alcohol is intoxicated and the quantity and type of alcohol. It is illegal to supply alcohol to a person under 18 who is intoxicated, because that is not consistent ‘in any circumstances’ with responsible supervision.

The exception allowing a parent or guardian to supply alcohol to a young person does not apply to licensed premises. Parents and guardians are not allowed to supply their under 18 year-old children with alcohol in pubs, clubs and licensed restaurants.

For more information, see the factsheet on Underage Drinking Laws published by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing.

Tobacco and young people

It is not an offence for a person under 18 to possess or use tobacco cigarettes. Police however have the power to confiscate tobacco (and e-cigarettes) from a person under 18 in a public place.

It is an offence to sell tobacco or 'non-tobacco smoking products' (for example, herbal cigarettes) to a person under 18. It is also an offence to purchase tobacco products (or herbal cigarettes) for a person under 18.

The same restrictions on sale to under 18-year-olds now also apply to e-cigarettes
It is an offence to smoke tobacco (or an e-cigarette) in a motor vehicle if a person under the age of 16 years is in the vehicle (Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008).