Saturday,  Jul 21, 2018,10:56 (GMT+7) 0 0
Not merely tipsy
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Jun 14, 2018,21:28 (GMT+7)

Not merely tipsy

By Son Nguyen

Despite dozens of legal documents having been issued to govern trade in alcoholic drinks, despite campaigns calling on the people to drink responsibly, and despite warnings by health professionals against impacts caused by such drinks on human health, beer consumption still seems to be slipping into an uncontrollable manner, with bars and clubs seen mushrooming everywhere, spelling socio-economic trouble for the country. The latest move by the Ministry of Health to get tough on beer drinking, however, has again been met with stiff opposition.

In the past few weeks, the Ministry of Health has organized several seminars to rally support for a draft law on prevention and fight against damages by alcoholic drinks, stressing that the law is badly needed to contain the excessive abuse of alcoholic drinks that is doing more harm than good. Pros and cons of the draft law, which is expected to go before the National Assembly at a sitting later this year before being passed early next year, have been hotly debated at such seminars between the ministry and proponents on one side, and breweries on the others, as widely covered in local media.

Data from the Vietnam Association of Liquor, Beer and Beverage (VBA) given at the seminars shows the country consumed over four billion liters of beer in 2017, or 43 liters per capita, a rise of some 10% against 2016, according to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper. The total value of beer consumed amounted to US$3.4 billion, or over US$300 per capita.

Despite such impressive growth, VBA says the consumption in Vietnam is at the average level, or even still lagging far behind that in other countries, and therefore, no measures should be introduced to keep consumption in check. Beer consumption aside, “the amount of pure alcohol consumed in Vietnam was merely 6.6 liters per capita in 2017, ranking 94th among 194 countries. Such a volume is far below the level in Australia, Poland, Germany, Estonia and Japan, among others,” a VBA representative is quoted as saying in Nguoi Lao Dong.

In addition, a sizable amount of beer is consumed by foreign visitors to Vietnam, with the number estimated at 17 million this year, so local consumption is lower, says a representative of the Hanoi-based brewery Habeco in Nguoi Lao Dong.

However, the Health Ministry asserted that consumption of alcoholic drinks, especially beer, has risen strongly in recent years. Tran Thi Trang, an official with the ministry, referred to other statistics to affirm that Vietnam ranks 10th in Asia and 29th in the world in terms of beer consumption, and within 15 years, consumption has grown by an alarming pace of 74%. A closer look at consumption indicates Vietnamese men are the world champions in drinking beer, she stressed on Vnexpress. “A survey in the past 30 days shows 80% of men and 12% of women aged over 15 consume beer now compared with 70% and 6% in 2015,” Trang is quoted by the news site as saying.

Nguyen Tuan Lam, a representative of the World Health Organization in Vietnam, cited WTO data as affirming that beer consumption in Vietnam is accelerating, according to Tuoi Tre. Speaking at one of the seminars in Hanoi on June 8, Lam said Vietnam has jumped 30 notches in just six years, from 94th in the world in 2010 in terms of per capita beer consumption to 64th in 2016. The per capita consumption of pure alcohol in Vietnam is now put at 8.3 liters a year, ranking third in Asia and being far higher than that in Japan.

High beer consumption has therefore caused numerous problems for human health and the entire society, according to proponents of the draft law.

Nguyen Huy Quang, head of the Legislation Department of the ministry, said drinking beer, albeit a small volume daily, will not be good for human health, as it has been proven beer is directly related to various cancers, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. Meanwhile, experts have also pointed out that beer drinkers may easily lose self-control, leading to violence and traffic accidents.

News website Cong Luan under the Vietnam Journalists Association, citing unnamed sources, says alcoholic drinks are responsible for 5.7% of deaths and 4.7% of medical costs for society. Seconding the point, news site Vnexpress says some 15% of inpatient beds at mental institutes are used by those suffering from mental illnesses caused by drinking.

In Tuoi Tre, another official at the Health Ministry estimates damages caused by alcoholic drinks in Vietnam amount to some VND65,000 billion, or roughly US$3 billion, substantially higher than the State budget revenue from the industry at VND50,000 billion in 2017.

Therefore, current measures like campaigns against drinking to raise public awareness of its adverse impacts have not paid off, said Nguyen Huy Quang of the Ministry of Health in Nguoi Lao Dong. “There must be tougher measures for controlling beer consumption,” he is quoted as saying in the newspaper, hinting at the need for a law.

The draft law prepared by the Ministry of Health sets out numerous measures to control beer consumption by limiting the industry’s publicity and the product availability on one hand, and to collect more from the industry for a fund to support public health on the other. Such an approach is also contested by the industry.

Nguyen Tien Vy, vice chairman of VBA, says in Tuoi Tre that the draft law, if approved, will increase tax on breweries at a time when beer products are subject to a preventively high tax of 65% since early this year. Therefore, forcing enterprises to pay an additional 1-2% of their revenues to the fund to support public health does not make sense as it will only lead to their burden being heavier.

The draft law is also meant to enforce the ban on sale of alcoholic drinks to children aged under 15 as well as to restrict publicity programs for the industry, including restrictions of sponsorships for public events by breweries.

Such regulations are seen stoking more controversies in society, with more challenges from not only breweries but also drinkers and addicts. However, given the rampant sales and fast-rising consumption of beer as well as consequences, restrictive measures need to be considered.

In an article authored by a reader, Tuoi Tre says drinking beer for any reasons has become widespread. Many people are regularly drunk, rather than simply getting tipsy on special occasions. And the consequence is that thousands of people are rushed to hospitals during the Lunar New Year holiday due to beer, with such injuries outnumbering that caused by traffic accidents.

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