Towards a sombre nation

Saturday, 28 January 2012 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s increasing alcohol consumption hit headlines on Friday and is likely to cause some discomfort to officials as they strive to explain away the rise despite strict Government policies. This has also encouraged people to look at alcohol and cigarette consumption from a holistic aspect, including the need to raise awareness and keep young people away from bad habits.

A report, titled ‘A Handbook of Drug Abuse Information – 2011’ issued by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board,  which is under the Ministry of Defence, reveals in a tabulated chart that arrack consumption has increased from 67.1 million litres in 2006 to 75.2 million litres in 2010, bottled toddy from 10.5 million litres in 2006 to 16 million litres in 2010, malt liquor (which is beer, stout and porter) from 51.9 million litres in 2006 to 66.9 million litres in 2010 and sparkling wines from 375,739 litres in 2006 to 395, 892 litres in 2010.

The report says that whisky consumption has increased from 240,008 litres to 542,776 litres, brandy from 1.98 m litres to 2.5 m litres, gin from 1.2 m litres to 1.9 m litres, rum from 543,572 million litres to 804,008 million litres and vodka from 111,551 million litres in 2006 to 236,609 million litres in 2010.

The Colombo District has topped the list with 11.3 million litres of arrack, 113,000 litres of whisky, 576,560 litres of brandy, and 10.1 million litres of malt liquor, 22,896 litres of bottled toddy. The Gampaha District is the second highest with 7.9 million litres of arrack, 98,548 litres of whisky, 395,012 litres of brandy, and 9.2 million litres of malt liquor and 406,768 litres of bottled toddy.

Of the consumption of cigarettes for 2010, a total of 2.8 billion sticks of John Player Gold Leaf cigarettes have been issued to the market in the 20 per pack form, while the 12 per pack form has accounted for 296 million sticks for the year. Benson and Hedges has accounted for 13.9 million sticks while Dunhill Parent has accounted for 10.6 million sticks, Dunhill Lights 14.8 million sticks, Capstan 450 million sticks and Three Roses 118 million sticks, all for 2010.

Many would be shocked at the statistics but it also shows an interesting change in consumption patterns. Even though beer consumption has increased it could well be because more people are consuming it as a status symbol, difficult as that may be to believe. In fact a market study by Nielsen revealed that beer consumption had increased among fishermen who actually take beer cans in their boats instead of arrack. While this may seem as an act to be frowned upon beer has less alcohol content than arrack so can actually be seen as a better decision.

Officials prefer to put the blame on the rise in tourism but that alone cannot account for the increase alone. There is also the matter of the millions of litres of moonshine that is sold around the country and is not included in this report. This makes the problem graver and while the government earned Rs. 42.1 billion in taxes from liquor and alcohol consumption in 2010 one is left wondering how much was spent in creating awareness.

Moreover, the tax increases are often unproductive as in the case of cigarettes because the cheapest and most harmful ones do not see a significant price increase, therefore not only do the poorest people keep smoking but those that could afford better quality cigarettes move to the cheaper ones.

Therefore, it is clearly time for the Government to have wiser policies based on increasing awareness than top down policies that have little effect.