With the government converting bar licences into restaurant licences, thousands will be happy. This makes alcohol the most abundant and accessible drug in the country. This is an unprecedented policy decision without any proper studies and strategies to reduce alcohol harm reduction. The message is clear: “If you dare to resist, you resist using this drug or you succumb to this drug.”  Such a decision is destroying the foundation of the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  Tobacco and alcohol are recognised as gateway drugs and the government opened this for everyone.

Article 9 (1) and (2) of the Constitution mandates the government to “ensure a good quality of life for the people and promote conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”  The Annual Health Bulletin 2022 states that “Common and prevalent mental health disorders in the country are anxiety, depression and mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol and substance abuse.” The National Health Accounts 2021 states that Expenditure on mental health and psychiatric increased from 15 million in 2018-2019 to 18.8 million in 2019-2020. Further, a study by National Council a few years ago found that “alcohol liver disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the country, where a total of 514 patients died between 2015 and 2017 and 6,529 traffic offences were related to drink-driving from 2016 to 2018.” A Kuensel report in April this year stated that alcohol is a major cause of suicide in Dagana. Another news revealed alcohol is “the biggest problem among civil servants” and is also recognised as a major cause of domestic violence in the country.

World Health Organization estimates “3 million lives are lost due to harmful use of alcohol” globally every year. WHO calls for, among others, strong political leadership and commitment to reducing alcohol consumption. It urges states to “regulate the commercial or public availability of alcohol through laws, policies, and programmes to prevent easy access to alcohol as commercial and public availability of alcohol can have a reciprocal influence on the social availability of alcohol and promote harmful use of alcohol.”  Article 9(7) mandates the state to “develop and execute policies to minimize inequalities of income.”

With the current strategy, rampant alcoholism may cause further inequalities of income among the people, including children.

It is a fundamental right to hold Guns in the US, making them accessible to everyone. The country has seen 611 mass shooting in 2020 and 700 in 2021. This Year, the country already saw more than 230 mass shooting. Alcohol is no different.  The abundance of bars across the country also means the alcohol will become cheaper. Bhutan is already ranked one of the highest alcohol users per capita globally.  Thus, when alcohol and tobacco are both cheaply available and accessible, what more harm can government do to its people?

Relaxation of bar licence or tobacco will fetch votes. Thus, neither the opposition party nor other political parties will raise any concerns. Unless the government comes up with a robust system to regulate alcohol, the nation will reap the fruits of this man-made disaster. Many Bhutanese, including children, will fall into this death trap. The full impact of such flawed policies will be felt soon. Who should be hold accountable then?

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.