First Manual on Alcohol Released

The first ever Atlas on Alcohol was released by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare A Ramadoss last week. It shows 21% of adult males imbibing alcohol, while the average age of initiation has come down to 19 years.

The Manual was prepared by the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliances (IAPA), a national organisation affiliated to Global Alcohol Policy Alliances (GAPA) and supported by FORUT, Norway.

Work on the atlas has been on for the last three years by IAPA along with Nimhans, Bangalore, World Health Organisation, members of Commonwealth Medical Association and Indian Medical Association.

The atlas covers multi dimensional aspects of alcohol ranging from production to response. It focuses on issues related to production, distribution, availability and sale, consumption patterns, health consequences, socioeconomic impact and response of the country towards control and prevention of harm.

Study by Nimhans

The average age of initiation has been reduced from 28 years during the 1980s to 19 years in the recent times. The rising income level of youngsters is one of the major reasons for increasing consumption of alcohol, experts observed during the release of the Alcohol Atlas.

In the next 5-7 years the age is expected to come down to 15 years

The National Survey shows that among male adults, about 21% are current drinkers and about 17% are regular users of alcohol.

The Atlas also indicates greater use by women and the social acceptance. About 10% of adult females drink alcohol.

Among those seeking treatment about 44% were alcohol users.

National Family health Survey 2007

The most recent data on alcohol use was published in September, 2007 by the National Family Health Survey, based on the Data collected in 2005-06.

It showed that about 32% were current users of alcohol and between 4 and 13% were daily users. The proportion of users among rural (32%) and urban population (31%) are very similar

Rural families spend as much as 24% of their income, while urban population spends 32%, on alcohol.

India is one of the largest alcoholic beverage industries in the world. We are the dominant producer of alcohol in the South East Asia region, producing about 4 million tonnes of alcohol (65%) and contribute to about 7% of the total alcohol beverage imports into the region.

Drinking Pattern of States

Kerala accounts for the country's highest consumption of alcohol followed by Maharashtra and Punjab.

The prevalence of alcohol use in men has been highest in Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Sikkim.

Jammu and Kashmir records the lowest alcohol consumption. Experts attribute this fact to religious factors.

Prevalence of alcohol has also been seen in the prohibited state of Gujarat.

A total of 62.5 million people are believed to be regular drinkers of alcohol in India.

Minister and the Media

Releasing the manual Dr. Ramadoss asked the media to create awareness about the adverse social, economic and medical effects of alcohol abuse among the masses. 'The media can play a very effective role in tackling this problem. Today the reach of media has multiplied manifold and has a reach in almost every household. Generation of awareness about the bad social, economic and medical effects of alcohol abuse among the masses should be an important agenda of the media,' he said.

'Rural as well as urban youth is taking to alcohol on a very large scale and the trend is on the rise. This will cause societal tension and many kinds of distortions in the years to come. Therefore, we have to take effective steps now and here,' he added.

Surrogate advertising of alcoholic drinks

'Advertising of alcoholic beverages is prohibited but we see that the manufacturers take the help of surrogate advertisements to advertise such products, said the Honourable Minister.

This is one area where the media can play a very crucial role through some kind of self-regulatory mechanism. Today when young persons see the advertisements of the different brands in surrogate ads and the attendant glamorous lifestyles, they are misled and they get an impression that the ultimate symbol of having arrived is to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes.'

It is interesting to note in the government's latest brush with the judiciary, the Supreme Court has rejected a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) pleading that the Royal Challengers, name of the cricket team owned by the beer and spirit Barron Vijay Mallya, amounted to surrogate advertising and should not be allowed.

Article 47 of the Constitution

'Article 47 of the Constitution, one of the Directive Principles of the State Policy, makes it a duty of the State to discourage the consumption of alcohol. It reads, "The State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health."

Therefore, it becomes our foremost duty to see to it that the problem of alcoholism does not disrupt the social fabric of our country,' said the Minister.

IAPA chairperson Dr Arul Rhaj said, "Alcohol is a drug. Efforts are on to bring it to be sold only through medical stores."

The minister announced that the government will soon come up with a National Alcohol Policy even though prohibition is a state subject. Barring four states - Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Mizoram, no other state has a policy on alcohol.

India will also push for a World No Alcohol Day on October 2, the birth date of Mahatma Gandhi, at the World Health Assembly to be held later this month, the earlier attempts having failed.

The minister has appealed to the film industry to desist from showing visual shots of alcohol being consumed on screen, but has been widely criticised by the media and the industry. The inept handling of the existing medical care, resulting in deaths and suffering should be the focus of his ministry's attention, they feel. Sermonising his personal prejudices and dislikes cannot be thrust on them unless a law is passed, which is unlikely at this stage.

There appear to be some anomalies and ambiguities in the reported findings- in the statistics of last year's health survey and the current study by Nimhans. We shall study in details and report back. For now, there is some documentation to go by, for those predicting and planning for the wine market -editor



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