Research shows that reducing the price of beer will encourage those who have never taken alcohol before to commence their drinking habit, especially among teens and youngsters.
by Saroj Jayasinghe
( November 15, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Budget 2018 has proposed a relative reduction in beer prices and measures to liberalse the issuance of liquor licences. It is imperative that the government re-visit these proposals because they are likely to have dangerous implications to the health of our younger generation.
The argument for reducing the price of beer is that it will encourage those consuming illegal alcohol (i.e. kasippu) and high alcohol containing spirits (e.g. arrack), to switch to beer. The belief is that the hard drinkers or illegal kasippu drinkers will be attracted to drink beer when the latter’s price is relatively low. In other words, this is considering a shift in the pattern of drinking among those who are already drinking.
On superficial examination, this sounds reasonable. However, we need to think of the effect of lowering alcohol prices on hitherto non-drinkers, for example, the effect of lowering the price of beer on teens and youngsters who have not taken alcohol before (i.e. the effect on non-drinkers). Research shows that reducing the price of beer will encourage those who have never taken alcohol before to commence their drinking habit, especially among teens and youngsters. These younger persons are more sensitive to the price of alcohol than in the case of seasoned drinkers. If the price of beer is low, more of the youngsters will commence the alcohol drinking habit at an earlier age. In contrast, if the price of beer is raised, less of the youngsters will be encouraged to try alcohol for the first time. From a scientific point of view, there is little doubt that reducing the price of beer will gradually lead to an epidemic of beer drinking among the young.
Parents of children in Ordinary level and Advanced level classes will be surprised to hear that alcohol intake is already not uncommon among schoolchhildren as young as 16 years. (Do a small experiment and ask about alcohol intake from a few teens. The answers they give are often frightening. It is increasingly obvious that Sri Lanka is about to face a major problem from alcohol, and nowadays alcohol intake is quite common among school-going teenagers, both boys and girls!).
Countries which have low beer prices are facing yet another type of problem related to alcohol. This is the phenomenon called ‘binge drinking’ (i.e. drinking large volumes of alcohol in a short period of time). They are witnessing larger numbers of youth, periodically engaging in binge drinking leading to drunkenness, violence, and illness. Countries such as the UK are having a huge social problem from binge drinking in pubs during weekends.
Finally, it is well known that beer acts as a gateway to other stronger forms of alcohol (and even drugs). That means a proportion of those taking beer will progress to take hard liquor (i.e. arrack, whiskey, or even kasippu etc). They commence their alcohol habit with an occasional beer, and then it becomes more regular, and a few of those taking regular beers, graduate to harder forms of liquor.
Considering all these effects, lowering the price of beer (as proposed in the Budget of 2018) will, in the long-run, lead to higher numbers of young new drinkers, and ultimately higher numbers of those taking hard liquor, and higher rates of alcohol related problems. This means more illnesses, more suffering families, more accidents, more violence, more suicides, and more deaths.
If this proposal is implemented, history may judge the current government to have ignored scientific evidence and chose to sacrifice a future generation to the ills of alcohol. This is especially so because researchers are increasingly of the view that:
a) Alcohol is NOT good for the heart (contrary to a belief prevalent in society)
b) There is NO ‘safe limit for alcohol’
c) Alcohol in any form contributes to dreadful cancers, in addition to its effects on the liver, the brain, the nerves, and the heart.
Saroj Jayasinghe is a Professor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. He also a consultant Physician, National Hospital of Sri Lanka