KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia said on Wednesday (June 1) that it would raise its minimum age for alcohol consumption to 21 next year from the current 18 to stem underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
The new threshold goes into effect on Dec 1, 2017, along with a new requirement that manufacturers add warnings on the health dangers of alcohol consumption to their product labels, Health Minister S. Subramaniam said in a statement.
Businesses serving alcoholic beverages must display similar notices.
Mr Subramaniam said the step was in line with the "Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol", an effort spearheaded by the World Health Organization.
The New Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying certain types of cheaply produced liquor were "creating a social problem among the lower-income group".
More than 60 per cent of Malaysians are Muslim, and Islam - which bans alcohol consumption - is the official religion.
Malaysia has some of Asia's highest excise taxes on alcohol, according to the Confederation of Malaysian Brewers.
But it also has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, a bustling bar and restaurant scene and widely available alcoholic beverages.
Various public-health studies have suggested that drinking rates have been rising.
The brewer's confederation says Malaysia has an estimated drinking population of 3.5 million people, out of a population of around 30 million.
Malaysia generally practises a moderate brand of Islam. But religious tensions have simmered in recent years, with Muslim moderates and followers of other religions expressing concern at a steady rise of increasingly conservative Islamic attitudes.