China's efforts to reduce underage drinking could founder on a lack of awareness among the country's retailers.

The Chinese Government has begun phasing in a ban on alcohol sales to minors but, according to local reports, many vendors said they either had not heard of the law or thought it would be difficult to enforce.
 
The ban forbids sales of beverages with an alcohol content of 0.5% or above to anyone under 18. Retailers found guilty of breaking the ban face fines up to CNY2,000 (US$248).

The ban was prompted by concerns that relaxed attitudes among parents and teachers have worsened a growing problem with underage drinking.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, retailers have being given three months to fully implement the regulation. Furthermore, the ban is merely a regulation, not a law, and it remains unclear how it would be enforced.

An official for convenience store chain Shanghai Hualian Lawson Co. said staff would find it hard to enforce the ban. "First of all, shop assistants can't really tell from a person's appearance since some people look older than their real age," the official was quoted as saying.

"It would be better and easier if the government required people to show their ID when buying alcohol," the official added.

In contrast, French retailing giant Carrefour, which operates 70 stores in China, said its employees could demand to see IDs and refuse to sell alcohol to those unable to prove their age.

"Carrefour stops selling alcohol to minors, as it wants to contribute to the social development and make more families feel safe and happy in shopping with it," the company said.

Along with banning underage drinking, regulations from the Chinese Commerce Ministry also requires retailers to obtain licences for alcohol sales and ensure alcohol purity and safety.