In the last two decades, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing in India. This fact causes me two ask two questions:
Fact that alcohol use in India has increased in the last two decades:
- What does the consumption increase mean for India?
- Who lies behind the increase of consumption?
- What should India do to protect public health?
As pretext to answer those two questions, let’s bear in mind that India is regarded as traditionally ‘dry’ culture. 60% of Indian men and 90% females decide to live free from alcohol all their lives. Yet India is one of the largest producers of alcohol in the world and contributes to 65% of production and nearly 7% of imports into the South-Asian region.
Now, India is showing a phenomenal increase in alcohol consumption, which directly affects the economic status of its people and their families. According to a WHO study from 2014, the average Indian male consumes 33 litres, the average Indian female consumes 11 litres of alcohol per year. This is alarming already.
The Consumption increase we see in India, can not only lead to rising numbers of alcohol dependence but also increases people’s risk of developing any of the more than 200 diseases, including liver cirrhosis and some cancers, related to alcohol use. Especially children and young people as well as people living below the poverty line can often not afford medical treatments which exposes them to greater risk.
I feel very strongly that a developing, young nation cannot afford this menace which is actually catching like a wild fire in the name of adapted culture and development.
So, the question remains: Who is behind the increase of consumption and stands to profit from it, as India suffers?
Alcohol is a state subject in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. States are earning considerable revenue through alcohol taxation. Therefore it remains a great challenge to create a uniform Alcohol Policy for India for which we need a strong political intent and will.
Secondly, it is predominantly the alcohol industry from abroad that found in India a very “promising” untapped market and huge potential to increase consumption and with it profits. So the multinational alcohol companies are very eager to come to India and are using aggressive tactics to position themselves in India. Especially several companies sponsor various important events and promote alcohol to minors.
In a situation where the aggressive tactics of the alcohol industry, mostly foreign multinational corporations, increasingly endanger the development of India, the well-being of our children, families and communities, we need to ask ourselves what we can do about it.
Alcohol is no ordinary commodity. Policies and laws to reduce the alcohol production should be strictly implemented and enforced. India should primarily focus on regulating Big Alcohol in order to stop and prevent them from targeting children, young people and women. We also need complementary measures to increase public awareness on the risks of alcohol consumption. And furthermore, health departments, ministries and civil society movements need to propagate the positive and protective effects of family life and community well-being and their impact on public health. This way awareness will help create healthy environments and promote healthy lifestyles in India.
For further reading:
Johnson’s Blog Corner, covering alcohol policy in India
Bennett, L., et. al., Alcoholic Beverage Consumption in India, Mexico, and Nigeria: A Cross-Cultural Comparison, in: Alcohol Health & Research World, Vol. 22, No. 4, 1998 (PDF)