High costs no deterrent for alcohol consumption: Experts

New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) The strategy of increasing prices and taxes of alcohol and alcohol-related beverages has not lowered neither their demand or consumption in the country, leading to various health and social issues, health experts said Monday.

Speaking at a two-day national workshop “Alcohol Taxation and Multi-Sectoral Policy Interventions to Counter the Harms Associated with Alcohol Consumption”, the experts said India has become a major market for alcohol companies, and that there is a policy deficit to check issues related to its consumption.

“Data of last five years have revealed that cost of all alcoholic beverages have substantially gone up, but alcohol consumption has not reduced at all. There is a huge undocumented and illicit market and trading of alcohol in the country,” said Vivek Benegal, an associate professor at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).

He said it has been found that in areas where Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been implemented, use of alcohol was also more.

“Studies after studies have shown that even moderate drinking is not good for health as it gives rise to coronary heart diseases,” said Benegal adding that 30 percent of youth up to 20 years age start consuming alcohol early in their life.

He also noted that there is also a significant relationship between alcohol and sexual behaviour, adding that recent cases of rape incidents in the country have also found alcohol intoxication among the accused.

Monika Arora, director (health promotion) Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said that the country has become a lucrative market for alcohol companies, and alcohol sales have become a major revenue generator for the states.

She asserted for a need to have a national and sub-national policy on alcohol, regulation of consumption, comprehensive monitoring of advertisments and inter-sectoral strategy in the country.

“There is no uniform age cap in states. Various surrogate ads through fashion shows, cricket matches are being used by agencies for aggressive promotion. There seems to be a policy deficit,” said Arora.

“As the per capita income of people has increased, alcohol consumption has also increased. Alcohol shouldn’t be considered as a free tradable commodity as there are many health, social and economic issues related,” she noted.

Thor Norstrom, professor at Stockholm University, said there was a need for mobilizing women groups, NGOs, and advocacy groups in India to check unwanted alcohol consumption.

“In India, in about 27 percent of domestic violence there was some level of physical violence , out of which 60 percent of accused had done that in alcohol intoxication,” he said.

Nostrom also said that even in the recent fatal rape cases in the country, the culprits had acted under alcohol’s influence.

Stating that there countries should learn from the Swedish experience, Mats Ramstedt, associate professor at the Stockholm Forebygger Alkoholoch Drogproblem, said that alcohol consumption and related issues dipped in the Scandinavian country due to the stable cap on taxes and prices.

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