Asia: Alarming Rise in Alcohol Use
A new landmark scientific study shows that alcohol use is rising across much of the Asia region. Even heavy episodic (binge) alcohol use has increased significantly in China, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam, according to new research.
An aggressive and systematic push of multinational alcohol corporations into the countries of Asia means that Asians are increasingly likely to use alcohol and to consume alcohol to inebriation and intoxication, at least once a month, according to new data published in The Lancet medical journal.
Rising alcohol use in major Asian countries spells major problems
Since 1990, heavy episodic or binge alcohol use has increased significantly in countries like China, India, Thailand, Timor Leste, Bhutan and Vietnam. Before 1990, most alcohol was consumed in high-income countries, with the highest use levels recorded in Europe. However, this pattern has changed substantially, with vast increases in several middle-income countries such as China, India, and Vietnam. This trend is forecast to continue up to 2030.
While 16% of Chinese alcohol users opted for a heavy session once a month in 1990, by 2017 that percentage has nearly doubled to 30%. The corresponding figures for Vietnam were 16% to 24% while Thailand saw a jump from 18% to 25%. Bhutan and East Timor, two of Asia’s smallest states, saw similar increases of 14% to 22% and 12% to 20%.
Drivers of alcohol use: Big Alcohol and economic growth
The rise in alcohol use and binge alcohol use is being fuelled by the alcohol industry as well as fast economic growth that has contributed to rising wages and lower affordability of alcohol across much of Asia.
Deemed as “emerging markets” Big Alcohol has pushed their products aggressively and lobbied relentlessly to avert and derail any attempts at regulation. Asia Times writes:
Big Booze expand[ed] its presence in the region, with giants such as Diageo, the company that owns Guinness, as well as Dutch beer behemoth Heineken, setting up new ventures in the region in recent years.”
And interference in public health policy making can be seen all over the region, with Vietnam being the latest example.
Alcohol harm is a major obstacle to development in Asia, adversely affecting 13 of 17 SDGs – fueling road traffic fatalities, violence against women, the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, poverty and economic losses. Countries as different as Bhutan and South Korea, India and Vietnam, Thailand and China are all facing epidemics of alcohol harm. In India, for instance, alcohol harm costs society more than what it spends on healthcare in its entirety.
Advertisements and marketing in general has an important role in this: it depicts the image of a desirable ‘modern’, Western-oriented lifestyle to countries, which had been predominantly abstaining,” said Prof. Rehm, one of the authors of the new landmark study, per Asia Times.
In South Korea, Big Alcohol has been found to market their products unethically by promoting the “tipsy” life.
While a cocktail of increasing affluence, a thirst for a tipple, and aggressive marketing by beer and spirits companies have combined to drive up drinking across much of Asia, those factors are still sometimes trumped by religion. That’s particularly true in the region’s Muslim majority countries, some of which ban Muslims from consuming alcohol and make it difficult for non-Muslims to get a drink.