That a sensible solution continues to evade us stretches belief. To address one of the biggest health issues facing the country—alcohol-related liver disease—our lawmakers have made an apology of an attempt by failing to look beyond the number of bar licences in the country.
When the government banned the issuance of bar licences in 2010, the reason was that the cases of alcohol-related liver disease were rising. It is unlikely that the ban resulted in fewer numbers of drinkers. If a study has been conducted to establish the truth, we are left to wonder where it is and what it says.
There are close to 4,500 bar licences in the country today. An MP had even it worked out—there is at least one alcohol outlet for every 134 Bhutanese. The numbers are staggeringly high and per capita alcohol intake among Bhutanese is 8.47 litres, higher than the global average of 6.2 litres.
The fact is that, even after the ban on new bar licence, we continued to spend more than Nu 26 million annually to treat alcohol-related liver diseases.
Whenever we talk about alcohol, we immediately blame it on the culture. But we also know that excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health and relationship problems, to say nothing about the loss of productivity, premature deaths and disabilities, among other problems.
For example, drink driving is responsible for more than eight percent of road traffic accidents in Bhutan. Its contribution to crimes such as homicide has been well established. Going by police reports, most of the crimes committed by youth and adolescents are due to the influence of alcohol, particularly in urban areas. A report from a CSO shows that about 70 percent of domestic violence cases have links to alcohol consumption.
Alcohol also plays a significant role in educational attainment and employment which has also a direct link to poverty among the people. Worse, revenue from the sale of alcohol does not compensate for the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity, and premature deaths, among others.
Ban is not the answer; it has never worked. Lifting the ban on bar licences is even more dangerous. Bar licence business and fronting is an issue but that is a different matter altogether.
We have more than enough bars; we don’t need more destruction to individuals and families due to alcohol. What we need is economic development theme parks, for example, and programmes to educate and nurture our future citizens through direct and indirect means. More stringent alcohol sale rules and regulations will definitely help bring down the number of drinkers.