Our relationship with alcohol has been sad. We talk about alcohol that has become one of the major killers in the country today. Studies repeatedly have shown that many health risks are triggered by alcohol. But we do nothing about it.
Economic burden of alcohol abuse in Bhutan could amount to Nu 6 billion a year, we are told. This is from the horse’s mouth. Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk at the National Assembly said alcohol abuse is a major public health issue. He made it plain that revenue from sale of alcohol, which is substantial, does not compensate for the economic losses as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity, and premature deaths in the society.
This is not a new knowledge. Yet, over the years, commercial alcohol producers have grown in number. It is hard to make sense of what measures we are employing to ameliorate the situation. Stopping the issuance of bar licences while opening opportunities for alcohol producers is insane. Even as we talk, licensed alcohol producers are planning new product lines.
Laws and regulations can and must be made. More importantly, though, we must give them teeth. Alcohol is the biggest threat to the country’s progress, socially and economically. The government’s move to reduce alcohol consumption has not been successful. Alcohol reduction policy is gathering dust in the shelves of government agencies.
What we gather is that there is no will at all from any quarters to address the issue of alcohol abuse and its repercussions to the economy and the well-being of the nation. If the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee, chaired by the home minister, conducts regular meetings to review the implementation status and stakeholder meetings are organised regularly to review their progress and report to the committee, people’s expectations are being downplayed.
If we cannot control alcohol consumption in the country meaningfully, someone somewhere hasn’t thought about the issue seriously, just like we have been walking on with tobacco control. If the health minister thinks that implementing community expansion programme, including the formation of gewog-level alcohol harm reduction committee and intervention can reduce harmful use of alcohol, we are being hopelessly optimistic.
Alcohol consumption may have threads to link it to culture, but that should not give us excuse to just stand and watch.
Control should be well-meaning and earnest. There is no use making noise if nothing can be done.